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US Muslim Converts Dispel Stereotypes

Published: 30/04/2013 12:18:12 PM GMT
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CAIRO - Reflecting a diverse and rich community, American Muslim female converts are complaining of growing scrutiny and stereotyping which revived in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.“Whenever someone talks about (more)

CAIRO - Reflecting a diverse and rich community, American Muslim female converts are complaining of growing scrutiny and stereotyping which revived in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.

“Whenever someone talks about Muslim converts being involved in something negative, it's done in a way in which people say, ‘Be careful, look what happens when you become Muslim,'” Seema Imam, an education professor at National Louis University in Lisle, Ill., told Huffington Post.

Imam, who grew up as an observant Methodist but converted to Islam 40 years ago at age 17, has seen the same stereotyping.

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Though reflecting a diverse community as the rest of America, racially and ethnically, female Muslim converts were facing accusations of being incapable of making their own decision.

“These reports are misogynous in nature, reducing women to creatures who cannot think for themselves,” said Malika MacDonald Rushdan, who converted in 1995 after divorcing her Christian husband.

She made her “shahada,” or declaration of faith, at the Islamic Society of Boston mosque in Cambridge.

The problem of stereotyping faced Kelly Wentworth, 35, when she told her Yemeni friend that she was interested in learning about Islam.

After consulting a Muslim professor who taught at Tennessee Tech, where the two were students at the time, she decided to convert to Islam, a decision which was not celebrated by her friend.

“He was worried people would think that I converted because of him, or that I was being forced to convert,” said Wentworth, a software engineer in Atlanta and board member of Muslims for Progressive Values, a national advocacy group.

“The stereotype is out there. That's something I fight with now.”

Though there are no official estimates, the US is home to from 7-8 million Muslims.

According to a 2011 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, about 20 percent of US Muslims are converts to the faith. Of those converts, about 54 percent were men and 46 percent were women.

An earlier Gallup poll found that the majority of Americans Muslims are loyal to their country and optimistic about their future in the United States.

For My Creator

Though some American Muslim women converted while single, those who started reading about Islam after meeting future husbands are incredulous over the idea that they converted to please them.

“My faith, by definition, is for the Creator, not for my husband,” wrote Ohio attorney Sarah Anjum, who converted almost 10 years ago, while she was in college studying Islamic political movements and Arabic, and four years before she met her husband.

According to Katherine Wilson, a convert and Rhode Island resident who works with female victims of violence and sexual assault, media has succeeded in distorting the image of Muslims, seeing their choice of faith as a knock against their own decisions.

“I believe this is partially due to white privilege in that there is not an understanding why an 'all-American girl' would give up her privilege-assumed, carefree lifestyle,” said Wilson.

“I think it bothers people that an 'all American woman' would walk away from what they think is a great life, which is a stereotype within itself.”

This perception was solidified after news revealed that Boston suspect widowed wife, 24-year-old Katherine Russell, was an American convert to Islam.

Facing stereotyping for years, these women were growing tired of explaining their decisions to convert.

“There will always be those who judge based upon ignorance. They are of no concern to me,” said MacDonald Rushdan.

“I will keep on doing what I've always done. I will not apologize for being a God-fearing woman whose faith provides her with inner peace and contentment.”

Reproduced with permission from