Marrying a Muslim man in post-9/11 North America
GUEST COLUMN: REBECCA JONES *— When I met my husband, then-roommate, he was living in the basement of our shared student apartment. We became friends simulating Star Wars battles with toy light sabers and fell for each other watching a Ghostbusters marathon. Sheltered from the world, we seemed to have more similarities than differences.
To be quite honest, it still sits strangely when I hear people say I married a “Muslim man.” I feel like I fell in love with a boy who happened to be Muslim. That was almost 10 years ago.
But just because I fell in love, didn’t mean I fell in love with his faith.
* Rebecca Jones is a pen name requested by the author to protect her family from any potential backlash.
We had many debates about the relative strengths of Islam and Christianity. While I conceded that Islam was certainly a recognized and perfectly acceptable path to the divine, I swore I would never convert.
I have always been a closet spiritual seeker, rather than overtly religious. Raised as a Baptist, I was taken to church weekly by my parents and was often moved by the self-less nature of Jesus and the teachings of the New Testament. I studied many religions in university, eager to see into other ways of being and believing. I was curious but not particularly drawn to any new path.
However, over time I did become Muslim — and I have practiced Islam for almost six years.
At first it was horribly awkward and terrifying. There were prayers to memorize in Arabic, and rituals to emulate. And this wasn’t a popular time for the move I made, coming just months after the 9/11 attacks (we live in the northeast).
Plus, Islam seemed to have a rule for everything! I gave up pork and alcohol. I taught myself how to pray by watching a video I ordered from the internet. The rites and language seemed very foreign, and I felt that I didn’t have the same connection to God I had once had.
But as time passed and I came to know and love many of my “brothers” and “sisters” in Islam, and as I memorized prayers and practiced rituals, I came to love Islam. I had accepted Islam intellectually and rationally long before — but the day I made my Shahada (declaration of faith) supported by my sisters in Islam, it truly entered my heart.
Islam means “submit,” and I have come to see that abandoning ego and submitting to certain directives and rituals in pursuit of something higher can create a sense of peace and certainty.
For sure, I’ve witnessed prejudice, misunderstand and blowback — especially given the tensions surrounding the war on terror, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that are the response of our governments to 9/11.
This everyday example is relatively harmless, but happens often: My mom owns a hair salon where she caters to an older set of grey haired ladies. One day an elderly woman commented to my mom that during Ramadan the Skydome in Toronto had been converted into a makeshift mosque to hold the thousands of Muslims who lived in the area. “Can you imagine?” she said, bewildered by the fact. “Where do you think all of those Muslims came from?”
My mom stopped cutting and pointed to a picture of my husband and I that she keeps on her hairdressing stand. “You see those people that you look at every week when you get your hair done?” my mother asked. The woman looked closer. “Well those people are Muslims!” my mom declared with pride. “That’s my daughter and my son-in-law. Muslims are everywhere! You might even know some!”
Many people have questions when they meet a Muslim convert for the first time. “Really? You converted? Do you mind if I ask you why?” Or, “What did your parents say?”
Well, my parents are accepting people who actually know a lot about Islam, and often educate others about it. They know that we worship God, and that the Arabic word for God is Allah. They know that we don’t worship the sun or moon. They know that we honor many of the same stories and prophets as Christians, including Abraham, Moses, Noah and Jesus.
We don’t think Jesus was God but we do think he was sent from God to teach us how God wants us to live. We respect other religions and don’t believe there is any compulsion in religion. We love peace and family and are hardworking members of the community. And I guess those are all of the reasons I converted — that, plus I love a boy who just happens to be Muslim.