Friday, May 20th, 2011
“When I first moved to this area, it was a difficult transition. I had been living happily in New York for eight years, and was very active in the Muslim community there. I was involved with the Dutchess County Interfaith Council and taught religious school. My job moved me here, and then six months later discharged me to work remotely. I found myself grieving leaving a community that I loved so much.
“I live near Owing Mill, Maryland and went in search of the Muslim community there. I found the local mosque and went every Friday for a year to worship and try to meet other people. I tried to make connections there, but people would not greet me. I can’t tell you exactly why, but I think that it has to do with the fact that the mosque is within a couple of miles of the FBI offices. In the past, they had some infiltrators. The community there is South Asian, and I am very obviously white and American. Just talk to me for ten minutes, no talk to me for two minutes, and you’ll know that I’m American right down to my bones. But, I am also a Muslim.
They accepted me as I am, which was my salvation.
“It has been some 18 years since I converted. I was living in Washington State, the great green Northwest, and I was practicing as a Catholic. I was very active in the community, but also had a lot of questions that had been dogging me all of my life. No matter who I asked or how I asked, they kept saying, it is a matter of faith. I thought that if God wanted to communicate with his creation, which I do, he would communicate in a way that we would understand. That started me on my journey for answers by looking to the other religions.
“Around that time, I met and fell in love with a man. I invited him to go to church with me, which is what you did in Washington, it was no different than inviting someone to meet your parents. He said that he was a Muslim and preferred not to. I thought, what was so bad about being a Muslim that you couldn’t go to a church that was open to everybody. It was an impetus for me to start asking questions about Islam. I asked him, but he could articulate it and guided me to the Sheikh Idris Mosque, which was the first mosque built in the Arabist style west of the Mississippi.
“There, I started going to women’s meetings on Fridays. There were Muslims and non-Muslims who created a wonderful support network. I have always had a very spiritual guiding, so I just sat and tried to connect spiritually with Islam. You don’t have to speak Arabic to know how poetic and beautiful it is. And when I saw people prostrating together and putting their heads on the floor, that, for me, was it. I knew that it was my religion. It was the true religion. I waited about ten months to see if I could handle the obligations like covering my head and wearing the clothing, and then converted. For me, I knew I was a Muslim when I changed my pronouns. In the beginning, I would say, they say this or they do that. At some point, I would say, we do this and we do that. When I included me in them, I realized that I was them.
“Since then, I have lived my life by the rules of Islam. That’s what made me so angry about my experience at the mosque in Maryland. I speak as a Muslim. I treat people as a Muslim. I dress as a Muslim, and they would not accept me. I was at the point of jumping ship and leaving Islam. I did not want to call myself a Muslim anymore.
“I started looking for alternatives, but also thought that there had to be something else out there for me in Islam. I went to Meetup.com, of all places, to find other Muslims. I didn’t care if they were getting together to play bridge, I was going to find other Muslims that I could interact with. Through Meetup, I found Muslims for Progressive Values. When I came to the first meeting, I was floored. There were Americans and immigrants, conservatives and liberals, gays and straight, and men and women. They accepted me as I am, which was my salvation. I found them at the moment when I was ready to say, to hell with all of this.
“I have a deep seeded belief that we are not put on this earth to worship alone. There is something about community worship that is important. That group makes you feel whole and connected to something larger than you. I don’t think there is one right religion out there. It turns out that for me, Islam was right. For you, it may be something else. It is just important that we all find something and feel connected to the greater good.”
Learn more about the D.C. chapter of Muslims’s for Progressive Values.