” I just don’t understand it! What would possess an American woman, born with all the rights and privileges afforded to her by this nation, to choose convert to Islam? Why would any woman choose to be part of such a backwards religion that looks down on women and treats them so badly?”
As a female convert to Islam, I often faced some variation of the question above. My decision to enter Islam made people question both my sanity and my intellect. But really, if you consider my background, it is not that hard to fathom. I initially did not consider Islam’s views on women to be that oppressive because they closely mirrored what I had been taught in church. My upbringing in a conservative Baptist church completely primed me for life as a muslimah.
“Wives, submit to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter towards them”-Colossians 3:18-19
“Wives submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the Church;and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything“-Ephesians 5:22-24
As a Baptist girl I heard multiple sermons on how the man was to be the ‘head of the household’. This was not something that I was to question, as God Himself had set this order. Sure, I was an individual in my own right. But as part of a family it was my duty as a Christian woman to defer to my husband’s wisdom. The man was to have the final say in all matters. To question the doctrine of submission in marriage and refuse to go along with it was akin to questioning God Himself.
A woman’s dress code and modesty were also a major deal in my church as well. A woman’s body was seen as something that could possibly tempt and distract men, so it should be covered up. Showing cleavage and thighs would be scandalous and unacceptable. All my skirts and dresses had to come to the bottom of my knees at least, and mid-calf was ideal. If I wore a skirt or dress that revealed my knees, I would need to bring a lap scarf with me to church. For when I sat and crossed my legs in a skirt of this length, an inch of my thigh might become visible, and we could not have that.
And God forbid that I actually wanted to wear a dress or skirt that fit. Though I was a petite size four, my Grandma and Aunty always made sure I purchased dresses and skirts that were a size or two up. Christian ladies didn’t show their curves,after all. Christian ladies also shouldn’t have jiggling behinds and rolling hips. So even though I had a 22 inch waist, I was forced to wear girdles.Wearing pants? Fuggedaboutit! Women were not to wear pants at church or any church-sponsored events, as that would have been imitating men and disturbing the natural order that God had put in place.
With this in mind, is it any surprise that I accepted Islam’s views on women initially? The mentality underlying Islam’s treatment of women was not foreign to me at all. Practicing Orthodox Islam was simply ‘kicking it up a notch’, so to speak. Wearing a hijab and abaya was more extreme than what I wore to church. However the principle behind both was the same:the female body was a problem and needed to be out of view. The principle behind Sura 4:33 and the scripture from Colossians quite above is the similar:the husband is the head and God Himself wants it this way.
At this point in my life, I reject the traditional ideas regarding submission in both Christianity and Islam. I don’t see how one can claim that men and women are equal, then turn around and say men have a divinely ordained authority over women? Furthermore, why should I go along with submitting to my husband anyways? I find it hard to believe that a truly just, loving and merciful God would expect half of the human race to do this. No, the whole doctrine of submission sounds like something that earthly men came up with in order to control and dominate women. I doubt any Divine Being had anything to do with it. The claim that “God said so” was simply thrown in to keep women from questioning it. I refuse to acquiesce to the will and desires of a man simply because he was born a man. If a man expects me to listen to his views and respect them, he will need to bring more to the table than testicles alone.
*Some Christians may read this and get offended that I am drawing a comparison with their faith and Islam. Let me be clear: I am not speaking of the more modern and progressive strand of Christianity here. I am speaking of the fundamentalist strain of it that I grew up with as a Baptist. So if your denomination doesn’t fit this description, you have no reason to get your panties in a bunch.