You know, over the years that I have written for Aljumuah, there’s one thing I’ve always wanted to talk about. I have hesitated because it’s kind of a sensitive subject.
But, I really want to talk about this; I really want to be heard here. Why? Because it is important to me that fellow brothers and sisters in Islam out there in Aljumuah readers’ world think hard about this one. It is some-thing we need to wrap our heads around.
Sisters: I know for a certainty that, at some point since you have accepted Islam, you have been told this too. Maybe someone just insinuated it, but that’s enough as far as I am concerned.
Since I converted, reverted to Islam or however you want to put it (all that counts: I am now a Muslimah, alhamdulillah, and I say “La ilaha ill Allah”)—I have been told that I should hide my past. And, let’s not forget, you are no longer an “American”.
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Don’t act like you don’t know what I mean. I know you do. Your past should be forgotten, nothing positive ever existed. The insinuation was that before I became a Muslimah, my life must have been bad and sinful. In fact, I recall someone (okay more than one person) even went as far as to say that I should cut ties with my non-Muslim family because they are “disbelievers”.
All this is something that has always gotten under my skin. Not because it is totally un-Islamic in principle and goes against all Islamic teachings. It gets under my skin because it is the assumption that because I was raised by non-Muslims, I MUST have sinful things to hide. My past life must have been horribly shameful, and lest we forget, my culture must be bad.
But as I have grown as a Muslimah, having embraced Islam more than 23 years ago, I have come to realize a few things. Here’s a brief synopsis of those truths:
We’re all in this together, but some of us don’t want to admit it. The fact is that each and every culture has the same problems. That’s right, we do. Arabs, Pakistanis and Americans…. whatever the culture, you name it. When you get down to the nitty-gritty of it all, we all have sin AND we all have piousness. We all have good people and bad people among us. No one culture, no one people have monopoly on goodness.
One more time, we all have sins. Each culture has its own music (that talks about love) and, get ready for this one, folks: each culture has its own forms of usury and even its own sex industry. Yes, there it is. I said it. So, if you happen to be one of the few who are under the impression that if you live in a “Muslim” country there is no usury to be paid or pornography for that matter, you had better think again. Sorry to burst your bubble. The truth is, you get what you look for—no matter where you go—and, if you look for the good, you will most certainly find it and vice versa.
To get back on track here, why should I hide my past? Why should I be ashamed of who or what I was before I embraced Islam?
More importantly, why is it that so many (born into Islam) assume that I have something to be ashamed of?
To be frank, it makes me angry. Forget about the fact that it is a flat-out insult on my personal character; it is also an attack on my family and how they raised me.
I don’t know, I could be wrong here, but not many people, if any, including those raised as Muslims by Muslim parents in “Muslim” countries, can lay claim to an ideal, Islamic sinless youth. Again, we all have sins. Boyfriends and girlfriends are not just in America folks.
Most people learn more about life as they grow older. Yes, I do have some regrets, though none are major. I am not ashamed of who I am, what I was or how I got to where I am at right now. I am happy with my past.
It has taught me so much, both the hard times and good times, and it made me who I am today. The tough times just made me a stronger woman and I thank Allah for those lessons, though they were sometimes hard.
I am also not ashamed of what I am. I am an American. I am not an Arab, nor am I a Pakistani or anything else for that matter. And, what’s more important here is: I don’t want to be anything else but an American. Because this is where I was born and raised and I am happy being, well, ME: Michelle Nasr.
My point is that I don’t want to be any-one else or assume another identity or another culture. My own is just fine. And, by the way, my name suits me too; I don’t look like a “Hafsah”—I look like a “Michelle”. And, I am happy with the name my mother gave me.
Some of you may be fuming at me at this point, I know. But what I am saying is not to discredit, nor disrespect anyone else—I am just being my own personal cheerleader because for so many years I have felt on the defensive.
But I am glad I was born in the U.S., glad I was raised by non-Muslim parents who adopted me. I am even glad I went to church and sang in the choir when I was young. Because, each aspect of my life—all put together—is what brought me to Islam.
My life is what led me on the road to believing “there is nothing worthy of worship but Allah, alone.” And so, I am very proud of that fact.
Just because I don’t want to do it all—dress like, act like or speak like a certain culture—does not make me a “lesser” Muslim than the next guy.
Here I stand, on my soapbox (for the final time, at least for a while) and I say with all my heart to my fellow convert sisters in Islam, be proud of who you are and where you came from…it is what led you to believe in Allah, the One.
Never cut ties with your family, no matter what. They are family, period.
And, the mistakes you made in your past were lessons you learned from, a gift that you can pass on to those you love—like your kids. It will teach them that everyone makes mistakes and everyone can learn and change from those mistakes….and if you made a bad decision it won’t shame you for life, but it can empower you to make positive changes for the rest of your life.
So, against the strong advice of my halaqa leaders of days gone by who told a large group of convert sisters to never tell our children about our lives before we became Muslim….
What do I tell my daughter about me? About my past?