Dramatic increase in the number of women reverting to Islam in California

By Anne Hart
Allvoices, Inc
September 20, 2011

What is there about the religion of Islam that draws so many Sacramento and other California women to join the faith? What invites the women to follow the customs, rules, and laws and go through an official conversion? It’s not always marrying into a Muslim family. Many single women are joining the Islamic faith, including many older women as well as younger students. Is it about community support and making new friends? New ideas to learn? What do women seek when they join the Islamic faith coming from Western European, Native American, Hispanic, African-American, or other ethnic groups–is it the basic teachings of Islam they read about in books, the closeness of the family life, the food, or the social life?

What is there about the faith and customs that appeals to so many women in California and in other areas such as Northern Europe or Latin America? What religion do you join if you’re half Middle Eastern and half European and your family practices several different faiths?

How often does Sacramento celebrate diversity? Once a year is Celebrate Diversity Month, but besides that special day, celebrating diversity is a daily event. Anthropologists may be interested in asking what motivates an increasing number of Sacramento women of nearly all ethnic backgrounds to convert to Islam? There’s even a local website for those looking for Muslim wives and/or husbands to start a family at Salaam Love. Is Islam the fastest growing religion in Sacramento?

According to a Sacramento, CA, Feb. 22, 2010 article, (AARP Bulletin) from McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Newstex, at perhaps age 112, Mother Ruby Muhammad, in that article was reported to be nearly the oldest person in the world living in South Sacramento, is fulfilling another dream: She performed on stage?singing gospel, telling stories and reciting poems she’s written?to commemorate Sacramento Community Women of Color Day in March. Mother Ruby Muhammad converted to Islam in 1946 and was given the title Mother by her faith. The UCLA-based Gerontology Research Group currently lists 77 validated supercentenarians around the world.

She was born in the state of Georgia, March 20, 1897, is an African American, still works out to jazz music in her Sacramento apartment community for seniors. She has an incredible memory and sense of humor. Her exquisite poems need to be recorded by personal historians and put in books about the works of African American women raised many years ago who converted to Islam when there were far fewer American-born female converts to Islam in the USA in the 1940s (that didn’t recently come from families that raised them in the Islamic faith).

At almost age 113 in a few months, she at last has been recognized as a performer. Ruby Muhammad performed with Brooks at the annual Sacramento Community Women of Color Day show on March 7 at Imani Community United Church of Christ at 2100 J Street, Sacramento.

In her youth, she picked cotton and tobacco and worked as a domestic. When she converted to Islam it was shortly after the end of WW 2. What motivated her at the end of WW2 to convert to Islam?

Was it related to working in the pre-civil rights era as a domestic, picking cotton and tobacco on farms, or coping with life in small-down Georgia in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s as a Black woman at a time when eateries had separate entrances and Blacks were barred from a variety of restaurants? Or was it because she was orphaned young and raised by neighbors? How did Sacramento life influence her new faith?

Ruby Muhammad had married twice and had four children, along with more grands, great-grands and great-great-grands than she can remember. Her secret is staying busy. What motivated her and what motivates other Sacramento women of all ages to convert to Islam?

Is the desire to have a closer, warmer family relationship one of the motivating reasons why increasing numbers of Sacramento women (and men) are converting or reverting to Islam? Why is the number of women converting to Islam in Sacramento increasing? Could it be the sisterhood of the women, the family-oriented dinners, weddings, the food variety, studies, and conventions that focus on the family and close-knit family values?

There already is a sizable number of Sacramento women converting to Islam. They come from all backgrounds. From African American to Scandinavian and everything in between. See the Sacramento bee article, A daughter’s conversion to Islam brings turmoil and reconciliation,” by Stephen Magagnini – Bee Staff Writer, published November 26, 2006. The idea is to find common ground. In an interfaith family, the issues to be handled have to do with finding what people have in common rather than looking a differences.The big question is what moves Sacramento women toward Islam, say rather than converting to other religions? In Sacramento, conversion to Islam nowadays is on the rise. What appeals to Sacramento women when they convert to the religion? Is it a personal choice of faith or a road to social networking and finding an ideal spouse?

Actually people can volunteer on various projects at any house of worship and meet people just by working together as a team for a good cause. It’s a study for ethnologists to look at the voices of confidence and resilience in the families and their children that pull together and are supportive. What’s in current issues in the news that motivate some Sacramentans to become Muslims and other Sacramentans to join other religions? Is it about family togetherness, who one marries, a feeling of safety in community, or personal choices?

The whole idea, it has been said, is based on thinking in terms of generations not administrations. Why are so many Hispanic women becoming Muslims? Could it be because Spain in medieval times had so many Muslims and Jews that were forced to convert to Christianity or leave?

Or is it the close bond that Latino women feel with people from Central Asia and/or the Middle East because of similar looks between some Latinos and Central Asians and/or Middle Eastern peoples? See, “NBC: Latino women finding a place in Islam – Life- msnbc.com.”

There’s a psychological reason why women in the USA or N.W. Europe convert to Islam when they have not had recent ancestors from Islamic areas of the world. In Norway, for example, the number of converts to Islam has doubled in the past decade.

See the article, “Islam in Europe: Norway: Teenage converts.” And one of the reasons why women in the USA or N.W. Europe convert to Islam is that it has to do with how fathers treat daughters, and how both parents treat sons, in the case of boys changing religions. With women, it’s about how their dads treat them.

With boys, it’s about how powerful, but kind they see their dad in their mom’s eyes. And it’s also about finding pieces of a psychological puzzle missing in their own religion that they are trying to find in another religion. They are looking to a religion they perceive as having strength. But why are so many religious changes to Islam taking place after 9/11 than before in the USA, Latin America, and Europe?

Why are so many Native American men reverting to the Muslim religion, sometimes because they’ve been told that Native American (Indians) had contact a thousand years ago with Muslim explorers and travelers to the New World before Columbus? See the article from a Native American (Cherokee-Blackfoot) who became a Muslim, “Native American Muslims.” Also check out, “Islam in America before Columbus.”

S.E. Asia, for example, Indonesia and Malaysia, have a high number of Muslims. Do European women convert to Islam because they’re told it’s the fastest growing religion in the world? Why is it the fastest growing? What are women getting from the religion that they are not getting from other religions? Is it identification with power in numbers?

The attention focused on Islam since 9/11? And why has there been so many changes of religion in the USA since 9/11? What’s the psychological reason people change religions? Is it individual?

Why do European women convert to Islam? Check out, “Why European women are turning to Islam – CSMonitor.com.” Why do these women who want to leave their former religions choose Islam? What does it promise women? And is becoming a Muslim woman a backlash against their mother’s participation in the feminist movement of the 1970s in the USA?

What drives the women, and what peace and serenity do they find in Islam? What draws the women–the music, food, family life, ambiance–or some deeper need to experience submission, dress and food codes, community, or power?

Why would women choose a religion where men and women worship in separate spaces and where women can’t be religious leaders in the same jobs that men have? They could experience separate spaces for worship in Orthodox Judaism, including Hassidism. And as for different leadership roles, women could find that in Roman Catholicism, where they could honor Mary or become a nun. Or women could experience the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church.

Why do women choose Islam over religions where women can be priests (Episcopal, Unitarian, Religious Science, or New Thought, for example) or become rabbis in Conservative and Reform Judaism? Why aren’t more women turning to Buddhism (Buddhist nuns) or worshiping godesses in Hinduism?

Yoga classes and Ashrams certainly are popular for meditation and exercise in the USA, and there are plenty of female Yoga and meditation instructors. But what is bringing so many American women to Islam?

Is a religious choice about the opportunity for leadership or inter-dependency upon help from the community? Is it that Islam is open to all ethnic groups equally? So are many other religions. But why choose Islam? Or is it what draws them the media attention Islam gets in the news so often?

Do people change religions to escape the chance of being victims of hate crimes? Or is it about the opportunity to dress differently in order to feel protected and respected within your community, but different and a target for hate crime attacks from thugs in the community based on your dress appearance? See the uTube video, “Chicago Video: Muslim Woman Attacked in Response to Fort Hood Shootings.”

Will reverting to Islam enrich the women’s lives, give them protection in old age, save them from a life of addiction and abuse, or leave older women in poverty? And why are so many middle-class, educated, or wealthy women converting to Islam? It’s not always because they have a Muslim boyfriend. How do their older children feel about the hijab? Or the change in religious customs, fasting for Ramadan, and changes in foods?

What does Islam promise women? For every one male convert to Islam there are four female converts. Are they doing this of their own will? What has their family upbringing have to do with their drive to revert to Islam–whether they’re Hispanic, European, or Jewish? And why are so many Americans in the USA whose ancestors came from Northern Europe becoming Muslims? See, “Why Women are Converting to Islam.”

When people, especially women, revert or change their religion to Islam, they’re thinking in generations rather than in administrations, it has been said. According to a VOA news video, between 70,000 and 200,000 Hispanics in the USA have converted to Islam, according to Turn to Islam.com.

The number of Hispanic Americans converting to Islam is growing rapidly — particularly in New York, California, Texas and Florida, which have the greatest concentration of Hispanic residents. Why are there four times as many women as men in the USA converting to Islam each year, according to the NBC news, Los Angeles, video, “NBC News: 20,000 Americans convert to Islam each Year.”

Interestingly, in the 1960s and 1970s, many Americans converted to Buddhism. Why is it Islam in this decade after 9/11 that attracts so many Americans of all races and ethnicity? What is Islam offering to Americans? And why are so many Americans choosing Islam after 9/11?

What has influenced them–could it be the media, their community, or the rapid increase in immigration of Muslims into the US since the 1970s? Media would like to know what about the religion appeals to so many women, in particular? Why? What serenity does it give them? Is it the feeling of family togetherness? Are their families supportive?

Muslim leaders say interest in Islam has increased in the past few years, and they also note that Muslims and Hispanics, many of whom are immigrants, share a number of common concerns. Steve Mort reports from a mosque in Orlando, Florida that has seen a steady increase in Latino worshipers. Check out the VOA video, Hispanic Americans Converting To Islam. At the VOA video site, there are dozens of videos showing numbers of women in the USA and England converting to Islam to find a piece of the puzzle that’s missing from their lives.

Check out the video on the English woman who works as a counseling professional in a hospital in England who converted to Islam. Or the video on a Southern American women, formerly a Baptist who converted to Islam “to find peace,” according to the video at: “CNN News: 1.5 Million Americans coverted to ISLAM in USA.”

The video shows the American woman’s conversion ceremony. She was raised in South Carolina as a Baptist. She explains in the video when asked why she is converting, “…because it’s much more about peace. I’m praying five times a day.” The message idea is that it’s difficult to do wrong or get into trouble when you’re busy praying five times a day.

Why are so many people from a wide variety of ethnic groups in the USA converting to Islam? Could it be the belief or attitude that God, meaning love, wouldn’t sacrifice his own son–that’s not what the life force is about–that’s turning so many, especially women, from organized Christian denominations to Islam? What about other religions?

Hindus and Buddhists don’t convert on the same scale to Islam as Christians are doing, especially in the USA. Why? What is it about Islam that in particular draws women to convert, especially women not married to Islamic men? For example, see the video, “Jermaine Jackson Converted to Islam.”

Why are there four times as many women as men each year in the USA converting to Islam? The question media asks, is what is there about Islam in the USA, England, and Germany that is drawing so many women, in particular to convert to Islam? Could it be the customary dress, the hijab? The feeling of protection and respect? See the NBC News video: “20,000 Americans Convert to Islam Each Year.”

The high conversion rate, especially for women, from other religions in the USA and northern Europe comes at a time when Judaism, for example, has a 52 percent intermarriage rate, and websites such as Jews for Allah, show testimonies of Jews that are converting to Islam. See also Jews for Allah – Jewish testimonies. The site notes, “Because everyone is born a Muslim (in submission to Allah) everyday Jews are returning (reverting) to the religion of birth and religion of Abraham, Moses, and all the past prophets, Islam.”

One question for some people seeking a religion of their choice may ask which religion really is the oldest? The answer might be nature worship. Then there came monotheism. It’s a matter of personal choice what religion one chooses. Media asks why are Jewish males, in particular, converting to Islam? Do they feel stronger as Muslim men or as Jewish men in the USA? What do their families think of their choices? What’s the reason most give?

Women converting from Judaism to Islam have very different reasons than males converting from Judaism to Islam. There are some women that revert from Judaism to Islam. Each will have her own reason. For impoverished Jewish women, it could be about the attitude of her father toward her in early life.

For wealthy women, there are other reasons she chooses. Each Jewish woman has her own personal reason for reverting to Islam. Muslims use the term ‘reverting’ rather than converting because reverting means returning to your chosen religion. For example, see the website, “Why I Chose Islam,” by Jemima Goldsmith.

When Jemima Goldsmith, the 21-year-old daughter of billionaire Sir James, married Imran KhanImran Khan she embraced not only the world’s most handsome sportsman but also the Muslim faith, taking the name Haiqa, according to the website. You can read in an exclusive account, how she tells about her journey from the glamorous society of London to the austere religion of Lahore.

It’s fascinating. The question to ask is why, particularly after 9/11, are so many Americans, Northwestern Europeans, and Hispanics in the USA converting to Islam? Why are so many converting to Islam, and not so many to other religions such as Buddhism or Hinduism–or even the Unitarian church that accepts all religions?

Media has to ask why, particularly at a time when women dressing in Islamic dress to command respect and dignity make themselves look different to American and Northern European society. Why do they want to stand out, look different, and subject themselves to possible taunts from young males in their society, particularly in Europe?

Why are so many British women converting to Islam? These include women who have grown children and are now unmarried and younger women who are single, or in the USA, women marrying Muslim men.

Will Islamic dress bring women more respect and peace in the USA or N. Europe? The media can ask them years after their conversion, to tell their experiences. It’s a great topic to explore and listen to the women’s voices of confidence and resilience.

Apparently religion plays a major role in some people’s lives at all ages. For some it’s a path to explore in order to find the missing piece of the puzzle for which they’re searching. You’ll find more N.W. Europeans such as the English and Germans changing religions to Islam than you’d find S.E. Europeans, such as Greeks or Serbians who had more contact with Muslims in historical times.

The less historical contact a person had with Islam, the more they might switch to Islam, except for Hispanics. With both Native American (Indian) ancestry as well as Spanish, there’s more of a tendency to become Muslim because of the long history of Muslims and Jews in Spain, and the distance Native Americans and Hispanics of Native American (Aztec, Inca, Maya,) or Native Americans, such as Cherokee, may have had with Islamic contacts in their medieval history. Many Hispanics trace the Spanish and possibly Muslim or Jewish side in Spain to their father’s male ancestors, and the Aztec or other Native American tribal ancestry to their mother’s female ancestors in the New World.

American women, including Sacramentans would like to ask the question: what is it that women born in the USA or N.W. Europe, or Hispanics are finding in Islam that they have not found in their own ethnic ancestries? And does it all depend on the father’s attitude toward the women in their childhood that drives their decision to take a new religion?

How does the new religion contribute to their lives, and how does it relieve stress? Is it to acquire a voice of confidence and resilience that the conversion takes place in increasing numbers locally? And is it more cost effective or more expensive locally to raise children in Islamic households than in other religious household or in secular households?

These are some of the questions anthropologists and ethnologists may ask as well as where are any statistics showing the number of women converting to Islam is increasing in Sacramento or Davis? And is influence from foreign students at UC Davis or CSUS part of the reason why female college students (and some males) are converting to Islam?

Is this outlook researchable as far as who’s keeping count? And where are the local surveys on who’s changing religions at what stage in life, and in Sacramento is Islam the fastest growing religion compared to any other religions or secular humanism?

Is the diverse population in Sacramento a motivating factor in conversions of locals to Islam? Sacramento has a large Iranian population with numerous collections of Farsi books in Sacramento’s public libraries. There are also other groups. Fulton Avenue has a successful halal meat and grocery market, and the Arabic Community Center as well as numerous markets and Middle Eastern restaurants also are found along Fulton Avenue.

Will anthropologists look at the increasing Middle Eastern population and its influence on local American-born women of varied ethnic backgrounds? What’s the motivating factors that move local men and women in Sacramento to convert to Islam, and how has their lives changed after the conversion? The best way to find out is to ask or survey those interested in creating a survey.

Then again, it’s the private business of individuals when they choose a faith. Considering any and all faiths, how has conversion to any religion changed your life, regardless of what the former or present faith may be? And should anthropologists even ask these questions? Or is it none of anyone’s business, but the person and his/her relationship to the chosen religion?

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