I was attracted to Islam by a brief contact that I had with a young boy. I had a Somali student when I was at Victoria, and the students were required to do an assignment about consumption, which is what I teach.
And his answer didn’t fit into the parameters of the assignment really. So I had to call him in and say “Well, you know, this doesn’t really answer the question”. And so he explained about the way that his family butchers, which was outside the paradigms of thought entirely.
And then after that I went to Japan, and when I went to Japan there were a lot of Muslim students there, and there was an Islamic center, so I just started reading these books, mainly probably to sort of argue with people.
And also because in my class there was a whole lot of Philippinoes who were Catholic, and there were a few Muslims from different countries, and there was a bit of a class rift.
Because I was from here, I didn’t know anything about Muslims, and I didn’t really know much about Catholics either. I didn’t realize that there was fighting between religious groups in different countries. And after a lot of reading I thought “Ah… Yes… This is it!”
So I became a Muslim alhamdulellah.
Being A Muslim Woman
Being woman in Islam is really good.
I would say that I would definitely have been described as a feminist before I was a Muslim woman. Now I think the whole paradigm of feminism is way too limiting for women. So I say with more and more study of the position of woman in Islam, it’s so much more, and so much better than feminism which is totally bounded by modernist logic.
I think that Islamic sisterhood is what the feminist project wanted for women. The relationships between women in Islam from an Islamic basis are very very warm and supportive; in some ways maybe are sort of old-fashioned to us, like you have the responsibilities as a Muslim in certain situations, and I feel that women in Islam nurture each other and support each other very well, do everything they can for each other, and if there is a crisis of some kind there is always somebody who can help you within the group of the sisters.
You know, somebody can do everything; there are nurses, typists and doctors and people who can paint, there is a sister for every job, and they will help you. So the solidarity between women is just another aspect of Islam that supports you as a member of the community and the wider community, and your family and circles around circles, which is what Islam is, it’s a very happy and fascinating way of life.
Life in Hijab
Muslim women wear their scarves because they are obliged to. And they are obliged to by Allah, who is not a man, and certainly not anybody’s husband or a father or brother. I think actually the opposite is true. Although I wouldn’t use the term liberation, which I think too is a loaded term in English.
My consideration in wearing my scarf is only my vertical relationship, which is between me and the Creator. I started wearing my hijab almost probably within about a week of becoming a Muslim. I thought “Ok, if I’m going to make a big step of becoming Muslim I need to know what I’m doing, I need to read more about it, and I need to live it. As I learn it I need to live it and everything I need to put it in and I need to follow that. I have to do things completely, a complete system.”
So I started wearing my scarf, and that was fine. I never had any sort of particularly small stuff, and I wasn’t particularly stylish with it. I just wore it because I was required to wear it, and all the benefits of it. When I started wearing my hijab, I didn’t know any Muslim woman, so I was sort of organizing myself by myself, and as I was living in Japan and I didn’t know how to wear it or tie it so it didn’t slide down my hair, and I had to order all my clothes on the internet because being in Japan I had difficulty to find things needed or required to fit things in.
So I ordered all these clothes from Kuwait on the internet and all this scarves and all these different things then because I didn’t know how to use any of them… So I used to practice wearing Islamic attire and I’m sure I looked like a mummy with all these big bands and pins around my hair… I started wearing my hijab, and I really do think that I looked like someone who had head injury, … until I met some Egyptian sisters in Japan who taught me how to wear hijab properly…
The benefits of wearing hijab are huge, especially of course in the context when people know what it means. But for myself, I find it very good. I suppose it is the same thing that everybody always is. People are forced to deal with me just as they find me, as they’ve got pretty few clues about how that is.
So if I’m sitting on the bus reading my book they might think she’s very quiet, I’m not quiet, or any sort of ideas they have, they won’t know and they would not know until they engaged with me. They are forced to take me for what I show them. So if I’m friendly to them, that’s what they will know, as they can’t really get much from looking at me about me except probably that I’m foreign, which I’m not.
People maybe feel like they can’t talk to me; like it’s not allowed or something. You know what I mean? I don’t feel like I’m less approachable, but I feel I could be perceived as less approachable. Actually I think I’m not unapproachable
There is no rules against working. There are no limitations on my work as long as my work is legal within Islam.
I like my work, and I find it good. I’m in a place where I can do the things I like; read lots of books and talk to people with lots of theoretical ideas. That’s good. I find it good. Sometimes you have some problems, like work parties arranged at the pub and things like that that I just don’t want to go to, which I don’t want to be part of a party at a pub. But within my work I’m teaching and researching, so I find it manageable.
Mothers of course are revered in Islam, which is really good especially if you are a mother. But the whole concept of women and women’s value is quite different, so these things like you are valued for your unique abilities to sort of nurture your child when it is in, and also nurture your child when it is out. So this is really good. It’s sort of seen as the fulfillment of a natural sort of role, and it’s the whole spirit of life that you are recognized and applauded for, that’s not recognized or applauded for even by the wider society in the West where people think of children as a burden rather than a blessing.
Soon after I became a Muslim, or soon after I got married actually, I was watching my husband doing his prayers, and I thought to myself “Oh this is really funny”. You know, if I had said it to my friends at school- those couple of years ago when I was at school- how could you even consider marrying a man who don’t pray? I would laugh, how can you mention that? And I was watching my husband doing his prayer, and of course the Islamic prayers has physical movements and sort of beautiful. And I thought to myself “Oh it’s really great”.
Before I became Muslim I thought to myself “OK, well I’ve got a good education, and I’ve got a good family and a happy life, and it doesn’t matter to me if I get married or not, and it doesn’t matter to me if I have children or not.” Then when I became Muslim I thought “Being married is an important consideration if you are a Muslim,” and I did marry, then I had children.
I wouldn’t have imagined that I could have such a good relationship with another person. My husband is not a New Zealander, so we have a cross-cultural marriage, and people used to wonder about that. But both my husband and I are Muslims, and our baseline reference is always Islam, and in every decision we reference Islam, and so we have a huge common ground that transcends all other considerations in our marriage, and both of us will submit to the Islamic rules whatever they are and however each of us may find it a bit uncomfortable.
But I really couldn’t ask for a better husband. Although, alhamdulellah, I’m very grateful for my husband, I think a large part of why he is such a good husband is because he is a Muslim. It’s not just he has got a nice family, or he is a nice guy. He is these things; he has got a nice family, but his baseline is Islam, and Islam is good.
Media and Misperception
There’s a great deal of miscommunication in the media about Islam. And it would seem to me, as someone whose business is to research, that it is obviously not objective. But worse than that, it’s intentionally misleading.
They always pin-pick things from reference books. Say they go to the Quran, and they pick out something, or they pick out part of something, which is more often the case. For example, they pick out the part about women, and there will be corresponding parts about men before it or after it usually, but it’s not there. So it always looks like it’s some huge patriarchal head squashing the life out of the poor well-covered women who are ashamed of their bodies.
It’s a total misunderstanding of even the beginnings of Islamic thought to have such ideas, which are totally embedded in me. I mean some of this just dropped in these little explosive bombs of untruth that people just accept, because of course they don’t know and they don’t know enough about it to know that it isn’t right.
The espoused doctrine of New Zealand is that you are free; wear what you want and do what you want… So my consideration is “Why can’t I wear my scarf? Why can’t I wonder about wearing my big dress and my scarf as I want to without being harassed? And what’s so weird about that? What does this have to do with anybody else?”
But further than that, the whole ideology of the participant portraying democracy is that I’m free too to do what I want and wear what I want. I’m not breaking the law, or doing anything scary. I’m just walking around doing my shopping and minding my own business, so what’s the problem with that? Why is that anything really?
Islam is a complete entity by itself. It’s neither moderate nor extreme. It is a way of life. But Islam is the perfect system followed by many people, maybe all of them are imperfect. So some people are extreme, as in any group some people are extreme…
Again I have a problem with the words. What does extreme mean? Extreme by whose measures? What is an Islamic extremist? What does that mean? … What is “moderate” Islam? Does that mean that you do your five prayers, but you are not as adherent to some other rules? I mean who is defining the terms?
So I always have problems with the terms, especially the terms that are used in media contexts because they are so loaded. I mean what does that mean? Islam is neither moderate nor extreme.
Islam is a complete system. Your job is to submit to the will of Allah and learn your religion. You go through and you learn your religion. The better you know it, the better you perform it, and the better you are to your community and all others.