Stories Of New Muslims


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  • Stories Of New Muslims



  • 12. Sister
    Penomee

    (Dr. Kari Ann
    Owen, Ph.D.)

     

     

    July 4, 1997. A salaam aleikum, beloved family.
    "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammed is his messenger." These are
    the words of the Shahadah oath, I believe. The Creator is known by many names.
    His wisdom is always recognizable, and his presence made manifest in the love,
    tolerance and compassion present in our community.  His profound ability to guide us from a war-like
    individualism so rampant in American society to a belief in the glory and
    dignity of the Creator's human family, and our obligations to and membership
    within that family. This describes the maturation of a spiritual personality,
    and perhaps the most desirable maturation of the psychological self, also.

    My road to Shahadah began when an admired director, Tony
    Richardson, died of AIDS. Mr. Richardson was already a brilliant and
    internationally recognized professional when I almost met him backstage at the
    play Luther at age 14. Play writing for me has always been a way of finding
    degrees of spiritual and emotional reconciliation both within myself and
    between myself and a world I found rather brutal due to childhood
    circumstances. Instead of fighting with the world, I let my conflicts fight it
    out in my plays. Amazingly, some of us have even grown up together! So as I
    began accumulating stage credits (productions and staged readings), beginning
    at age 17, I always retained the hope that I would someday fulfil my childhood
    dream of studying and working with Mr. Richardson. When he followed his homosexuality
    to America (from England) and a promiscuous community, AIDS killed him, and
    with him went another portion of my sense of belonging to and within American
    society. I began to look outside American and Western society to Islamic
    culture for moral guidance. Why Islam and not somewhere else? My birthmother's
    ancestors were Spanish Jews who lived among Muslims until the Inquisition
    expelled the Jewish community in 1492. In my historical memory, which I feel at
    a deep level, the call of the muezzin is as deep as the lull of the ocean and
    the swaying of ships, the pounding of horses' hooves across the desert, the
    assertion of love in the face of oppression.

    I felt the birth of a
    story within me, and the drama took form as I began to learn of an Ottoman
    caliph's humanity toward Jewish refugees at the time of my ancestors'
    expulsions. Allah guided my learning, and I was taught about Islam by figures
    as diverse as Imam Siddiqi of the South Bay Islamic Association; Sister Hussein
    of Rahima; and my beloved adopted Sister, Maria Abdin, who is Native American
    and Muslim and a writer for the SBIA magazine, IQRA. My first research
    interview was in a
    halal butcher shop in San Francisco's Mission District, where my
    understanding of living Islam was profoundly affected by the first Muslim lady
    I had ever met: a customer who was in Hijab, behaved with a sweet
    kindness and grace and also read, wrote and spoke four languages. Her
    brilliance, coupled with her amazing (to me) freedom from arrogance, had a
    profound effect on the beginnings of my knowledge of how Islam can affect human
    behavior.

    Little did I know then
    that not only would a play be born, but a new Muslim. The course of my research
    introduced me to much more about Islam than a set of facts, for Islam is a living
    religion. I learned how Muslims conduct themselves with a dignity and kindness
    which lifts them above the American slave market of sexual competition and
    violence. I learned that Muslim men and women can actually be in each others'
    presence without tearing each other to pieces, verbally and physically. And I
    learned that modest dress, perceived as a spiritual state, can uplift human
    behavior and grant to both men and women a sense of their own spiritual worth.

    Why did this seem so
    astonishing, and so astonishingly new? Like most American females, I grew up in
    a slave market, comprised not only of the sexual sicknesses of my family, but
    the constant negative judging of my appearance by peers beginning at ages
    younger than seven. I was taught from a very early age by American society that
    my human worth consisted solely of my attractiveness (or, in my case, lack of
    it) to others. Needless to say, in this atmosphere, boys and girls, men and
    women, often grew to resent each other very deeply, given the desperate desire
    for peer acceptance, which seemed almost if not totally dependent not on one's
    kindness or compassion or even intelligence, but on looks and the perception of
    those looks by others.

    While I do not expect
    or look for human perfection among Muslims, the social differences are
    profound, and almost unbelievable to someone like myself. I do not pretend to
    have any answers to the conflicts of the Middle East, except what the prophets,
    beloved in Islam, have already expressed. My disabilities prevent me from
    fasting, and from praying in the same prayer postures as most of you. But I
    love and respect the Islam I have come to know through the behavior and words
    of the men and women I have come to know in AMILA (American Muslims Intent on
    Learning and Activism) and elsewhere, where I find a freedom from cruel
    emotional conflicts and a sense of imminent spirituality.

    What else do I feel and
    believe about Islam? I support and deeply admire Islam's respect for same sex
    education; for the rights of women as well as men in society; for modest dress;
    and above all for sobriety and marriage, the two most profound foundations of
    my life, for I am 21 1/2 years sober and happily married. How wonderful to feel
    that one and half billion Muslims share my faith in the character development
    marriage allows us, and also in my decision to remain drug- and alcohol-free.
    What, then, is Islam's greatest gift in a larger sense? In a society which
    presents us with constant pressure to immolate ourselves on the altars of unbridled
    instinct without respect for consequences, Islam asks us to regard ourselves as
    human persons created by Allah with the capacity for responsibility in our
    relations with others. Through prayer and charity and a commitment to sobriety
    and education, if we follow the path of Islam, we stand a good chance of
    raising children who will be free from the violence and exploitation which is
    robbing parents and children of safe schools and neighborhoods, and often of
    their lives.

    The support of the
    AMILA community and other friends, particularly at a time of some strife on the
    AMILA Net, causes me to affirm my original responses to Islam and declare that
    this is a marvellous community, for in its affirmation of Allah's gifts of
    marriage, sobriety and other forms of responsibility, Islam shows us the way
    out of hell. My husband, Silas, and I are grateful for your presence and your
    friendship. And as we prepare to lay the groundwork for adoption, we hope that
    we will continue to be blessed with your warm acceptance, for we want our child
    to feel the spiritual presence of Allah in the behavior of surrounding adults
    and children. We hope that as other AMILA'ers consider becoming new parents,
    and become new parents, a progressive Islamic school might emerge... progressive
    meaning supportive and loving as well as superior in academics, arts and
    sports.

    Maybe our computer
    whizzes will teach science and math while I teach creative writing and
    horseback riding! Please consider us companions on the journey toward heaven,
    and please continue to look for us at your gatherings, on the AMILA net and in
    the colors and dreams of the sunset. For there is no god but Allah, the
    Creator, and Muhammad, whose caring for the victims of war and violence still
    brings tears from me, is his Prophet.

    A
    salaam aleikum.

     

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