AT A TIME WHEN ISLAM IS FACED WITH HOSTILE MEDIA COVERAGE PARTICULARLY WHERE THE STATUS OF MEN IN ISLAM IS CONCERNED, IT MAY BE QUITE SURPRISING TO LEARN THAT ISLAM IS THE FASTEST GROWING RELIGION IN THE WORLD, AND EVEN MORE IRONIC TO IS THAT THE STATISTICS SHOW THE MAJORITY OF CONVERTS TO ISLAM ARE WOMEN!
The status of women in society is neither a new issue nor is it a fully settled one, and where Islam is mentioned, for many the term 'Muslim Woman' prompts images of exhausted mothers chained to the stove, 'victims' suppressed in a life of indoctrination, frantic to be westernised and so on. Others will go to great lengths to explain how the hijab is an obstacle, clouding the mind, and comment that female converts are either brainwashed, stupid or traitors to their sex. I reject such accusations and pose to them the following question: why is it that so many women who have been born and brought up in the so-called "civilised" societies of Europe and America are willing to reject their "liberty" and "independence" to embrace a religion that supposedly oppresses them and is widely assumed to be prejudicial to them?
As a Christian convert to Islam, I can only present my personal experience and reasons for rejecting the "freedom" that women claim to have in this society in favour of the only Religion that truly liberates women by giving us a status and position which is completely unique when compared with that of our non-Muslim counterparts.
Before coming to Islam, I had strong feminist tendencies and recognised that where the woman was concerned, a lot of shuffling arwnd had been going on, yet without being able to pin her on the social map. The problem was ongoing new 'women's issues' being raised without the previous ones being satisfactorily resolved. Like the many women who shared my background. I would accuse Islam of being a sexist religion, discriminating, oppressing and giving men the greater privileges. All this coming from a person who didn't even know Islam, one who had been blinded due to ignorance and had accepted this deliberately distorted definition of Islam.
However, despite my critidsms of Islam, inwardly I wasn't satisfied with my own status as a woman in this society. It seemed to me that society would define the terms such as "liberty" and "freedom" and then these definitions were accepted by women without us even attempting to question or challenge them. There was clearly a great contradiction between what women are told in theory and what actually happens in practice.
The more I pondered, the greater emptiness I fell within. I was slowly beginning to reach a stage where my dissatisfaction with my status as a woman in this society, was really a reflection of my greater dissatisfaction with society itself. Everything seemed to be degenerating backwards, despite all the claims that the 1990's was going to be a decade of success and prosperity. Something vital seemed to be missing from my life and nothing would fill this vacuum. Being a Christian didn't do anything for me, and I began to question the validity of only remembering God one day a week - Sundays! As with many other Christians too, I had become disillusioned by the hypocrisy of the Church and was becoming increasingly unhappy with the concept of the Trinity and the deification of Jesus. Eventually, I began to look in Islam. At first I was only interested in looking into those issues which specifically dealt with women. I was surprised. What I read and learned taught me a lot about myself as a woman, and also about the real oppression of women lies: in every other system and way of life outside Islam. Muslim women have been given their rights in every aspect with clear definitions of their role in society - as had men - with no injustices against either of them. As Allah says:
"Whoever does deeds of righteousness, by they male or female, and have faith, they will enter Paradise and not the least injustice will be done to them." [Al-Qur'an 4:124]
So having amended my misconceptions about the true status of women in Islam, I was now looking further. I wanted to find that thing which was going to fill the vacuum in my life. My attention was drawn towards the beliefs and practices of Islam. It was only through establishing the fundamentals that I would understand where to turn and what to prioritise. These are often areas which receive little attention or controversy in society, and when studying Islamic creed, it becomes clear why this is the case: such concise, faultless and widely comprehensive details cannot be found elsewhere.
The fundamental belief of Islam is Tawhid which is a simple message 'la ilaha illallah'. It is recognise that Allah alone is to be worshipped and then to direct all worship towards Him - the root message which strikes at all false worship and it is the place where any person who seriously wants to learn about Islam should start.
By this time I had begun to meet practising Muslim women and how I felt so secure and welcome in their company! There was a sense of tranquillity and humility about them and I wanted to share in that. These sisters, I regarded not only as friends, but advisors, and supporters too, and the beauty of their companionship was that every person was attracted due to the same reason: to help each other in worshipping Allah. This is what united their hearts together. Allah says:
"And He has united their [i.e. the believers] hearts. If you had spent all that is in the earth, you could not have united their hearts, but Allah has united them. Certainly He is All-Mighty, All-Wise." [Al-Qur'an 8:63]
Alhamdulillah, I accepted Islam willingly.
Through my reading, researching and attending lectures, I have come to know my Rabb (Lord). I have come closer to acquainting myself with some of His Names (Asma') and Attributes (Sifat) of Beauty and Perfection. I have found this a great help in understanding the whole Religion. To know, for example, that among Allah's Names is that He is the Most Wise (Al-Hakim) and the Most Just (Al-'Adl), and therefore that He commands only that which is wise and just, would completely relieve a person from seeking to find justifications for Allah's Laws, or from having having doubts about the fairness of Allah's Laws. Now, alhamdulillah, I can appreciate much more why the true Muslim scholars emphasise so strong for Muslims to learn about Allah - His Asma' and Sifat - before trying to reason with Allah's Laws. Unfortunate I would have been, had I taken the stance that "Islam gives the best deal to women" and made this my reason for embracing Islam because then my faith would have been without a firm ground and sooner or later I would have come across some laws ordained by Allah that I couldn't logically / rationally understand or see the wisdom behind. Had I not studied the foundation of belief, namely Tawhid and looked at how Allah describes Himself in His Book, perhaps I would still be in darkness. And all praise and thanks is for Allah who guided me to the truth - It is as He says:
"Wherewith Allah guides all those who seek His good pleasure, to ways of peace, and He brings them out of darkness, by His will, into light and guides them to a Straight Path." [Al-Qur'an 5:16]
The reason why women are turning to Islam must certainly have something to do with the honour that Islam gives them and the equality with which it deals with people, not only in terms of gender, but also in terms of race, nationality, class, etc. However, the overriding reason why I and so many others like me were attracted to Islam was because Islam answered the most important question which I had ever asked: "Why am I here on this earth?" So I crossed the divide and managed to see what lies on the other side ... alhamdulillah, I chose Islam.
(s) Ad-Da'wah illa Allah, vol. 1, issue 3