Transformations: Why are you a Muslim?
by Amina Huntress
Assalaamu alaikum. May I share with you my experiences?
I am an American Muslima, having made Shahada - or made my vow - as it were, in 1990.
The first question from everyone is, “Why are you Muslim?” Because of my age (I am now fifty-two) and because of my intractable personality and artistic lifestyle, I am an unlikely nominee for conversion. Allahu Akbar. Here I am.
On that devious path in search of meaning in life, I met a Muslim brother who was working at the time at Kinko’s. Ed had a PHD in parapsychology from John Hopkins University which prepared him for a livelihood reading Tarot cards for old ladies (his word), which is why he was working at Kinko’s.
Whenever I saw him, he managed to squeeze in some meaningful dialogue between customers. I was hungry, very hungry, as are many Americans. One day Ed told me about his trip to Dar al-Islam, the Muslim community in Abiquiu, New Mexico. What I will always remember of his trip are his words, “My heart was washed.”
If these few simple words ring a bell for you, answer it. For me, these four words changed my life. Yes, I wanted my heart to be washed! Yes, I will go to Abiquiu. Shortly afterwards, my teenage son and I took the bus there and were warmly received by Hakim and Hafsa Archuletta. They talked to us about Islam. Hakim answered our question, spoken and unspoken, and he answered from the heart. When we came to a certain point, he suggested I make Shahada the next day with the women. I didn’t know what in the world he was talking about, but I said “yes” again.
The next morning Hafsa invited the necessary number of women to her house to witness the Shahada and I made my vow in Arabic to accept the five pillars of Islam. As I see it, I made my vow before reading the fine print. In other words, had I traveled by any other means than by my heart to Islam. I never would have survived the journey. A commitment to Islam is irreversible, however, because we are all Muslims, are we not? What is personal choice but a shortcut to Dunya. Still, Islam is not an easy road for Americans and there is a lot of understanding to be gained.
I was lucky. My mother would never buy me a new dress for Easter, though she could well afford to. She said that Easter does not mean new clothes. When I became Muslim, the big issue of dress for women as consensus behavior reared its ugly head. Early on, I was severely reprimanded and reduced to tears by a well-meaning sister who instilled fear and guilt in my heart for not being appropriately attired, as was she, in black from head to toe, or where her toes would be if they could be seen and if they were anatomically correct. The pain may seem trite, but in any culture, acceptance is an important human consideration. Additionally, semantic confusion between appearance without content and form as the container for content may provide a clue to the difficulty some of us have in following Shari’ah.
Anyway, for a week I wrestled with this subject. Then I realized I was devoting my attention to something besides Allah and that there is nothing besides Allah. La ilaha ilallah.
You all have stories I’m sure, or you’ve heard them from non-Muslims who never hesitate to cite the full range of atrocities committed by Muslims. Many times my faith has been restored by recalling the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay on spiritual laws: “My children, you will never see anything worse than yourselves.”
Had I traveled by any other means than by my heart to Islam, I never would have survived the journey. By the same token, only Islam has given me the tools to continue my journey. When I witness hypocrisy, violence, discrimination, hatred, within and without, I know God is greater. When I feel pain and suffering, I know all of the prophets suffered ten-fold and I ask myself, “Who am I to be exempt?” When I hesitate and falter, I hear Rumi whisper in my ear,
“Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times.
Come, yet again, come, come! “
Originally published in TAM print edition Spring 1994