A speech by Debra Dirks given in Salt Lake City, Utah on March 1, 2003 to a group of women converts to Islam and their non Muslim mothers.
In the name of God, Most Gracious and Most Merciful.
Peace be upon you all. This is the traditional Islamic salutation, and I warmly extend it to both the Muslims and non-Muslims here today.
I am honored to address this group on the topic of bringing our biological families together after a family member converts to Islam. This is a subject that is very dear to my heart. As a convert to Islam, I made my own personal journey to Islam, and dealt with and, indeed, am still dealing with helping my family members to understand my religious choice.
It is my sincere hope that today's meeting will be the first in a regular series of meetings that you will conduct to unite non-Muslim mothers with their Muslim daughters.
To begin with, there are two items I would like to clarify. The first one is the term Allah. Allah is a contraction of the words Al-Ilahi. In Arabic this means The God, implying The One or Only God. If we look to Arabic's sister Semitic language of Hebrew, we find the terms Elohim and El Elohim. El Elohim in Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, is the same as Al-Ilahi in Arabic, except that El Elohim is stated in the plural of respect. This is the term that is normally translated as God in the Old Testament. Thus, Arabic speaking Christians and Jews use Allah to refer to God.However, for the listening ease of our non-Muslim guests, I will be using the term God. Also for the listening comfort of our guests, I will dispense with the Islamic tradition of saying Peace be upon him after each prophet's name, as this can be somewhat distracting and can interrupt the thought process for those not accustomed to it.
WHAT IS ISLAM
What is Islam? Unfortunately, it is easy for non-Muslims to dismiss Islam as being nothing more than what appears to them as the strange and foreign.
Thus, non-Muslim family members may reduce Islam to being nothing more than our modest dress, our prostrating while praying, and our abstinence from pork and alcohol.
However, Islam is much more than this.To understand Islam, we turn to the Articles of Faith. In their core essence, the six articles of faith consist of the following beliefs:
- We believe in God'in His existence; His Oneness; His attributes; and that He is the only one deserving to be worshiped.
- We believe in God's angels' beings created by God from light for the purpose of obeying God's orders and praising Him.
- We believe in God's books of revelation, which include the Quran plus the original versions of the Torah (the book of revelation received by Prophet Moses, which non-Muslims equate with the first five books of the Bible) the Zabur (the book of revelation given to Prophet David, which non-Muslims equate with the Biblical Psalms), and the Injil (the book of revelation given to Prophet Jesus, which non-Muslims equate with the biblical gospels).
- We believe in all of God's messengers and prophets, some of whom are directly mentioned in the Qur'an, and some of whom are not. However, many of these prophets are also mentioned in the Bible, including among others:? Prophets Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, John the Baptist, and Jesus.
- We believe in the last day or the Day of Judgment when all mankind will be judged by God according to their deeds, and when God will accord them their appropriate punishment or reward, as tempered by His abundant mercy and forgiveness.
- We believe in the timeless knowledge of God, His power to plan, and His ability to execute His plans.
These six articles of faith are fairly simple and straightforward. As you can plainly see, Islam has a great deal in common with both Judaism and Christianity. Yet, there are very real differences also, but it is important to begin by noting the similarities.
Within Islam, the relationship between mother and daughter is a very special one, even in those cases where the mother is not a Muslim. For example, the Quran gives the following injunctions.
Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him and that ye be
kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy
life say not to them a word of contempt nor repel them but address
them in terms of honor. And out of kindness lower to them the wing
of humility and say: "My Lord! bestow on them Thy Mercy even as
they cherished me in childhood." (Quran 17:23-24)
We have enjoined on man kindness to parents: but if they (either of
them) strive (to force) thee to join with Me (in worship) anything
of which thou hast no knowledge, obey them not. Ye have (all) to
return to Me and I will tell you (the truth) of all that ye did.
And We have enjoined on man (to be good) to his parents: in travail
upon travail did his mother bear him and in years twain was his
weaning: (hear the command) "Show gratitude to Me and to thy
parents: to Me is (thy final) Goal. But if they strive to make thee
join in worship with Me things of which thou hast no knowledge,
obey them not; Yet bear them company in this life with justice
(and consideration) and follow the way of those who turn to Me
(in love): in the End the return of you all is to Me and I will tell
you the truth (and meaning) of all that ye did." (Quran 31:!4-15)
We as Muslims have a religious duty to love and care for our parents. This is a relationship of love and caring that grows over time. It is up to us to extend all courtesy and aid to them as long as they do not insist that we join partners with God.
We, as Muslims, realize that our mothers may well fear for us, watching us step into this new and foreign sounding religion. This is especially true as they hear the media's headlines proclaiming Islam to be a violent religion and painting Islam with the broad paintbrush of promoting the subjugation of women.
We must remember that this is terrifying to the woman who waited with outstretched arms as we took our first steps, who beamed with pride at our first words, who waited with a kiss and band-aid to make it all better when we fell and scraped our knee.
Fearing for our children is a normal and universal part of motherhood.For a mother, it is very hard to let go of these fears. So let us address these fears in order to dispel them for our mothers.
ISLAM ON VIOLENCE:
God commands justice, the doing of good and giving help to kith and
kin. He forbids all shameful deeds and injustice and rebellion: He
instructs you that ye may receive admonition.(Quran 16:90)
Islam does not promote violence but demands justice on an individual level, as well as a societal level. Thus, all Muslims are to act in a just and generous fashion to all their kith and kin.
Islam promotes the peaceful solution to problems.Further Islam even limits what Muslims are allowed to do in a war.
Islam does not allow for a scorched earth policy of war, as it prohibits the cutting down of a fruit producing tree, and harming livestock, other than what we eat. We are not allowed to use fire to rid us of our enemies. We most certainly are not to kill any civilians. Thus, any war that is fought within the guidelines given by God, will be a just war. As Muslims we are not allowed to kill indiscriminately. In Islam, collateral damage is not an acceptable concept if it takes civilian lives or if it hampers the enemy's ability to feed itself.
Fight in the cause of God those who fight you but do not transgress limits;
for God loveth nottransgressors. (Quran 2:190)
Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power
including steeds of war to strike terror into (the hearts of) the
enemies of God and your enemies and others besides whom ye
may not know but whom God doth know. Whatever ye shall
spend in the cause of God shall be repaid unto you and ye shall
not be treated unjustly. But if the enemy incline towards peace do
thou (also) incline towards peace and trust in God: for He is the
one that heareth and knoweth (all things). (Quran 8:60-61)
If one amongst the pagans ask thee for asylum grant it to him
so that he may hear the word of God and then escort him to
where he can be secure: that is because they are men without
knowledge. (Quran 9:6)
ISLAM ON WOMEN'S SUBJUGATION:
With regard to women, Islam demands that women are to be treated equally.
And among His Signs is this that He created for you mates from
among yourselves that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them
and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts); verily in
that are Signs for those who reflect. (Quran 30:21)
In the Quran, we are told that we are the garments of our husbands and our husbands are our garments. This concept stresses the especially warm and close nature of the marital relationship.
A little women's rights history might help all of us to understand why Muslim women in a truly Islamic society have no need to strive for these rights. Throughout history, during the Middle Ages in Europe and indeed into the 20th century, women were not given their rights. They were almost owned by their husbands and had no right to own property, to be educated, or to inherit.
In America, it was not until 1920 that women were finally given the right to vote.
In contrast, Islam gave women their rights back in the 600s. They were built into the religion, right from the beginning. Not only do we have the right to inherit, to own property, to do business, to have an education, we are set up as the equals of men.
It must be noted that our rights of inheritance are not equal to our male counterparts. However, neither are our financial obligations.The husband must provide for the family's financial needs. The wife can work, but any income is strictly her own. She has the right to keep it and/or spend it as she likes.
Think of the difference it would make in the average family in America, if this rule were applied. This is just one of the unique privileges granted to Muslim women.
Others include the fact that our duties really are limited to child and husband care. This may not seem that different from other households, until one realizes that housework and cooking duties are not assigned to the wife, though most of my sisters do them as a favor to their husbands.This is truly a unique position within the family.
As we turn our attention to the future of this group of mothers and daughters, it is my sincere wish that understanding will bring healing and warm relationships.
May God grant that we see each other as individuals for whom we care and whom we can nurture.
May God bring us together to share and grow in the warmth of each other's smile.
May God Grant that our words are kind and encourage growth. As in all things, God knows best.
Debra L. Dirks (Um Yahya) was raised in the Mennonite denomination of Christianity in rural Kansas, and transferred to the United Methodist Church upon marrying a Methodist minister in 1969. In 1991 she began having frequent contact with the Muslim community in Denver, Colorado and began to be interested in Islam. In 1993, while in Jordan on a research trip to the Middle East she converted to Islam. In 1999 she completed Hajj and Umrah. She is coeditor of a book titled Islam Our Choice: Portraits of Moders American Muslim Women, which is published by Amana Publications.
Photo Attribution: Petar Milošević - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Women_in_Islam.jpg