“I can't believe you let Maryam have internet in her room,” Joanne said. She gripped the steering wheel of her car with her left hand as she lifted a can of diet cola from the cup holder and took a sip. She shook her head as she held the can inches from her mouth. “I swear that's the one thing that makes me really uncomfortable when Samira comes over.”

In her peripheral vision, Joanne could see Basma turn to look at her, Basma's narrowed eyes visible through the slit in the black face veil, but Joanne kept her eyes on the road. She already knew what her friend was thinking. It was what most Muslims thought when they heard her views on teens and internet usage. It was the same frustration she'd faced in Saudi Arabia.  If you didn't wear a face veil and you listened to music, you forfeited all rights to being taken seriously for any moral boundaries you set for yourself and your family. And fact that Joanne was an American convert to Islam made her case even worse.

“Really, Joanne,” Basma said, shaking her head, “I'm surprised you feel that way.”

“Why? Because I'm a bad Muslim and should just go all the way?” Joanne chuckled and shook her head before taking another sip of cola.

“I didn't say that.”

“You didn't have to.”

Joanne returned the can to its place and smiled at Basma.

“Don't worry,” Joanne said. “I don't blame you for it. I'm used to people thinking I'm a hypocrite.”

“Oh, Joanne, for God's sake. Can we talk about something else?”

“I didn't bring this up to bicker, Basma. I'm really worried about my daughter.”

“And you don't think I'd treat her like my own?”

Joanne slowed the car to a stop behind a line of vehicles at a red light. “Honestly, Basma,” she said quietly. “That's what I don't want you to do.”

Joanne frowned apologetically as she met Basma's shocked gaze. “I'm sorry if it sounds like I'm being judgmental, but—”

“If anyone should be worried,” Basma said, “it should be me.”

Joanne's eyes widened as she chuckled. “And what's that supposed to mean?”

“It means you're not the only one worried about her daughter.”

“So you believe Samira will corrupt your innocent little girl?” Joanne rolled her eyes and smirked. “I should've known this is what you'd think after I asked if our daughters could be friends.  To you, this whole thing is a one-sided charity case.”

“Well, Faris and I are sacrificing a lot to help you.”

Joanne drew her eyebrows together. “You and Faris? What does your husband have to do with anything?”

“Oh my God. You can't be serious, Joanne. Did you think I'd just invite some girl over to spend hours alone with our daughter and not ask his permission?”

“His permission?” Joanne looked at her friend, hands gripping the steering wheel. “You mean letting my daughter come over requires some major family deliberation?”

“Well, actually, it does.”

Speechless, Joanne stared at Basma. It was only the sound of a beeping horn that prompted Joanne to blink and shake her head. She lifted her foot from the brake and rested it on the gas pedal, guiding the car past the green light.

“In an Islamic household,” Basma said, her voice authoritative despite the soft tone. “that's how it should be.”

“In an Islamic household?” Joanne contorted her face. “So what does that make my household?”

“Joanne, don't be unreasonable. I just want you to know it's not personal.”

“But it is personal, Basma. It's very personal.”

Joanne squinted her eyes as she glanced at her friend. “Think about it. Do you have to get permission every time Maryam's cousins want to drop by?”

“They're family, Joanne. That's different. We have to keep ti—”

“In Islam,” Joanne said, her emphasis on the word intentionally sarcastic, “cousins aren't family. Otherwise, how did you and Faris get married?”

“Wh…” Basma's eyes widened, but Joanne could tell Basma didn't know what to say.

“And isn't it true,” Joanne said, “your husband can forbid family from visiting if he thinks they'll cause harm?”

“Well…yes…but—”

“But nothing, Basma. So it's personal. Period. There's no need to lie about it.” Joanne's nose flared. She shook her head. “And Islam forbids lying last time I checked.”

Basma sighed, and Joanne sensed her friend wasn't in the mood to argue.

Joanne felt a tinge of guilt pinching her, but she found it difficult to let go of her offense. How could Basma think she was corrupt?

Joanne huffed. Was this what her life would forever be as a Muslim? Other Muslims holding her at arm's length? Admiring because she's American, but distrusting for the same reason?

Shaking her head, Joanne propped her left elbow on the seal of the window next to her as her right hand steered the car. Oh how she'd believed all that universal brotherhood rhetoric when she first accepted Islam. But now…what was left for her? Not even the marriage she'd thrown her heart into sustaining. She now lived an ocean apart from her youngest children. The two boys she loved more than life itself were with their father in Saudi Arabia.

Joanne was tired of hearing how Islam is perfect and Muslims are imperfect or how she shouldn't judge Islam by the actions of Muslims.

“Oh please,” an American convert had said once, rolling her eyes. “That's just what they say so they can keep living culture and ignoring Islam.”

At the time, Joanne had been infuriated. She was personally offended because she was married into one of the very cultures the woman was criticizing. “I swear to God these Black people are impossible,” Joanne had said to Riaz later that day. “People bend over backwards to treat them equal, but it's never enough.” Riaz had laughed in agreement as she continued venting. “They're a bunch of ungrateful leeches if you ask me. Always got their hands out, but then they complain that even the people who help them are racist!”

These were the words that hung in Joanne's mind as she pulled the car to a stop in front of the Muslim high school where the girls were finishing a placement exam.

Joanne felt the beginning of a headache. She was beginning to see the world with the very eyes she'd scorned for so long.

Oh, sweetheart, don't blame yourself,” Riaz had said when he'd sat her down to explain his reasons for divorce. “It's not your fault. It's just that this has been really hard for my family.”

What the—? Joanne had thought at the time. Was he kidding? You're just going to throw away a marriage of fifteen years because your wife doesn't “fit in” the family? You knew I couldn't speak Urdu or cook biryani when you married me!

“Joanne,” Basma's soft voice drifted to Joanne as if from a distance, “are you okay?”

Joanne's heart beat had slowed to a normal rate, but the tightening in her chest had not loosened.

It's not personal, Joanne.

Such simple, sincere words Basma had spoken. Yet they were eerily similar to the ones Riaz had used to break apart an entire family.

Yes, I know it's not personal, Basma, Joanne thought as she turned the keys to shut off the engine. My problem is one I can't control.

The keys jingled as she pulled them out the ignition.

I exist.

 

 

Adapted from A Friendship Promise by Ruby Moore

Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of the If I Should Speak trilogy and the novels Realities of Submission and Hearts We Lost.  She is now writing juvenile fiction stories under the name Ruby Moore. To learn more about the author, visit themuslimauthor.com or join her Facebook page.

Copyright © 2013 by Al-Walaa Publications.  All Rights Reserved.

WRITTEN FOR MUSLIMMATTERS.ORG

21 Responses

  1. mariam pearls

    Wonderful story but does it really happens to convertees

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  2. joyfull

    wonderful story Zakiyyah…thank you for taking the time to write and share it. As a convert, it hits home. I think many of the things in here do happen, for instance, the failed marriages and the underlying feeling that if you are not arab you simply do not understand or “own” Islam the way the arabs do. I also love the line “That’s just what they say so they can keep living culture and ignoring Islam.”…a reminder to myself first of all.

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  3. RCHOUDH

    Same here! That part where Joanne derides black people especially hits hard. But it’s still good to read about since it illustrates a part of the Ummah’s reality right now, which is our deep-seated racism and hypocrisy at times. I was also surprised to read that Joanne’s ex was a Saudi Arabian or subcontinental origin (I’d forgotten that there are many South Asian expats here who might as well be considered Saudi citizens, especially their kids!)

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  4. Abu Sumaiyah

    As a convert, I fully undertand what is being said in this story. However, I fail to see any justified reason for writing a story about it. In fact, I dont really see the benefit in writing fiction at all. The reason being it creates and suatains sterotypes from all sides.

    Personally, I have been treated as less than Muslim by many people. I do beleieve that Muslims from Muslim families treat reverts differently and believe differently about them. For example, when I was trying to get married no one trusted me to marry their daughter simply becaue I was a white Canadian.

    In fact, in the early days I refused to attend the masajid in my city because of how I was being treated. Eventually I learned to get over it. I still have people who treat me differently, it is just an accepted fact. Alhamduliallah I have been able to learn and understand a great deal of Arabic and leanr about islam. I am not a scholar, but I do find it amusing that the people who look down on me have never put the same level of dedication into learning Arabic as I have done. For example, one so called Muslim born brother once voiced that he was surprised I understood the meaning of different supplications. He said that most people just recite them without thinking about the meaning. that really said a lot for me.

    I believe this story does not add any beneficial information. It just feeds the perception that reverts have of so called born Muslims. many are bitter and they are for many reasons. Instead of writing about such a topic, why not try to change it. your story will not do that. actions speak louder than words.

    personally, i decided to leave saudi arabia and go back to canada. one of my tings I will do inshalla, is help those who are like me. alhamduliallaah i think i can help some of them. as stated, if that is your objective, actions are more important.

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  5. muslima

    this is depressing. arent we supposed to be encouraging ourselves to be better muslims rather than sitting down n writing stories abt how we arent???
    this isnt really doing our religion a favor!

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  6. Na'ima B.

    Asalaamu alaikum,
    Wow, this bitterness and disappointment on the part of converts is something I have been noticing more and more recently.
    Do you think there is a trend of disenchantment, a weariness with the wide gap between the Islamic ideal we were all drawn to and the reality that many Muslims face as part of life’s struggles?
    These thoughts have informed my last two editorial for SISTERS Magazine as well as a recent visit to London – wondering whether we are seeing the same things going on, Umm Zakiyyah?

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    • Umm Zakiyyah

      Wa’alaiku mus salaam wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh, Na’ima. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It’s always good to hear from you, barakAllaahufeek.

      Yes, in my experience, there is definitely a steadily increasing trend of bitterness, disenchantment, and weariness on the part of converts. I see it each day, as most of my current “da’wah” work is dealing with converts on the verge of leaving Islam, some who have left already.

      I think there is definitely a wide gap between the Islamic ideal and the Muslim reality, but I don’t think this is the only reason for this problem. Converts accept that ideals don’t exist, but they have trouble accepting that most Muslim communities are not interested in their struggles except to say how many people converted to Islam in their masjid/community or to get them married off. They are also deeply hurt that when their issues are brought up, they are told to stop being negative; but when other issues (like Palestine, Syria, etc) are brought up, the Muslim communities do all they can to show support for those suffering. It’s as if the only suffering worth addressing publicly is physical suffering in “far away lands” that we can feel helpless about. But when we must face the spiritual suffering on our doorstep (most of which we caused or contributed to), we want to wear blinders, put in earplugs, and talk about something else—and even blame the messenger (or the sufferer). This is where the bitterness and disenchantment comes from imo, more so than from the gap between the theoretical ideal and human reality.

      In other words, converts know that everyone’s human and that nothing’s “ideal”, but when they see that Muslims do not want to even give an ear to their problems, they get confused, bitter, and leave the community (if not Islam altogether).
      And Allah knows best.
      UZ

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  7. Humaira Khan

    While I agree that the issue your story highlights is very real for converts, I would still suggest using your ability to write well to effect social change. Identifying the problem isn’t enough. Presenting solutions is what is required.

    In my humble opinion, the story would have worked a lot better if, for example, a (muslim convert) father/mother was teaching his/her child how to be a better Muslim giving both sides of his/her own story as a convert, a story of how he/she was mistreated by Muslims and how he/she could perhaps have dealt with it better and what solutions need to be considered at the community level.

    That way the problem and the solution would have been presented.

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  8. Esma

    For all the people criticizing the author, the issue she brings to light is very real. But it’s not about the convert. It’s not about the woman who felt disheartened after having converted to Islam. It’s about the rest of us Muslims, and how we treat converts. If I had not read this story and other stories like these, I would not have realized that this is a problem many converts deal with. The first step IS identifying the problem — once Muslims by birth realize what it’s like for converts, we can take steps to fix that. The point of this story isn’t that converts have to deal with it, it’s that we should change our ways and realize what the struggles of converts are! We need to stop keeping culture in such high regard. And to the people telling the writer that she should do something instead of writing about it — she does. That is why she knows about these issues. But since she has written about it, Insha’ Allah I will certainly offer extra help to converts, now that I have awareness of this problem. So at least she’s influenced one person. I hope there are others like me that she has affected too. Jazak Allah Khair Umm Zakiya for sharing this, may Allah bless you.

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  9. Amel

    As-salamu Alaykum,
    I am surprised by those who feel there is no point to writing stories about the problems facing people in different communities. Fiction is actually a very important tool that can help readers gain a better understanding of people they do not ordinarily interact with on a deeper level. An author does not always need to state explicitly what the solution might be because there may be many possible solutions that we are left to think about on our own and hopefully discuss amongst ourselves. We can then help “resolve” the problem in our real lives by taking practical action to (in this case) work harder to help new Muslims make a smooth transition to Islam.

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  10. Amel

    Regarding the way new Muslims are treated in our communities, I would like to say that my experience has mostly been positive over the 20 years since I first embraced Islam. I have sometimes faced odd questions from people who perhaps did not realize that their questions could be considered offensive, but I think the key to facing such situations is having confidence in yourself and realizing that the people who do this are actually betraying their own ignorance and lack of experience dealing with people from different cultures. If you look at things this way, you might find in such situations the opportunity to have a meaningful exchange with the person who has misunderstood something about you or your culture. I would also submit that if you repeatedly find yourself surrounded by negativity from the Muslims you encounter, it may be time to make a conscious effort to choose your friends and seek out Muslims who have a better understanding of Islam. This world is filled with Muslims of different cultures who are certain to respect you and treat you as a brother or sister in faith.

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  11. O H

    May Allaah reward the author immensely for her intention & efforts. Seems complaining & passing the bucket onto another person has become easier rather than taking action ourselves so I commend the author for her efforts in this. I for one can learn from this article & hopefully start helping converts as this is a motivating piece as it will be hypocritical on my part & many others to whine about what the author can do to help with us not taking any action ourselves! MAy Allaah forgive our shortcomings & give us the Tawfiq to help converts in a meaningful way.

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  12. TS

    As an American Muslim convert of 15 years, I can tell you this is a HUGE problem. And that is assuming you’ve had the guts to stand by yourself in the masjid while being ignored by the groups of ladies sticking to “their own”, and have managed to make ‘friends’ (friends being used quite loosely here). I would have liked the story better if Joanne had been perhaps a *little* less bitter. Being treated as a “lesser” muslim is bad enough without having her abandoned by her husband because his family didn’t approve. Not that that doesn’t happen, it does, but it’s a bit much for a short story. Maybe if we had caught the character a few years prior… I don’t know… but I was left with the impression that Joanne was not any longer on the straight and narrow and had become SO embittered that she couldn’t see her way back to any concilation with the community at large. It would have been nice to have been able to FEEL more on her side, as I’ve certainly been in her shoes a time or two (maybe one shoe anyway). The way it is, you kind of feel like maybe Basma has grounds (or at least viable excuses) for being a little concerned with Joanne’s moral code. But all in all, I did like it, and it does raise important issues, and the comments left here of people just realizing the problem leaves one with hope. And I like the part about the internet — I see too many fresh immigrants being so strict in certain ways, but waaaay liberal in others (“He needs internet for schoolwork, so of course we put the computer in his room.”) without understanding the very REAL danger of such things. Anyway, just my 2 cents

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  13. TS

    One more thing, though, while you’re out helping converts, Insha’Allah, do take the time to find out what they already know and understand first. It’s sometimes insulting when people start explaining very basic facts to someone who, as the Canadian brother above illustrated of himself, has done quite a bit of studying prior to running into you. Though I do find myself enjoying hearing things/stories muslim kids grow up hearing as bedtime stories, etc… as I obviously missed out on that type of thing, and can’t pass that stuff on to my own children because of it. Although it was quite insulting when a sister came and inspected the food while I was cooking to make sure I wasn’t using anything haram… so my advice is to just know your audience. Let them know that they can stop you if they’ve heard what you’re telling them, and don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something if they ask you. That’s better than giving bad information that will just confuse them.

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    • sam

      she inspected ur food because A. she was hungry or B. she cares about ur akirah :) Alhumdulillah

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  14. sam

    Next short story, she doesnt look at the world in a hateful way. because, she realises muslims r thankful 2 Allah swt no matter what trials befall them. And they bow only to Allah The Lord of the worlds. :) thank you.

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  15. Lubna

    Wonderful story but does it really happens to convertees. Thanks for sharing.

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