Despite Trump and his vitriolic rhetoric, Latinx people are one of the fastest-growing segments of America’s population, and Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion. It makes sense then, that in America, Latinxs are quickly making up the majority of converts to Islam.
People who see Latinxs or Muslims — and Americans — as monolithic have a hard time grasping the concept of intersectionality. For me, as a multi-cultural person exploring my own intersectional identity, the progression to Islam was only natural.
My grandfather, who had been raised Roman Catholic, encouraged the pursuit of knowledge. This included spiritual and religious knowledge as well as history, science, and other studies. He didn’t believe in forcing religion on us, though, and educated me about both Catholicism and Islam, as well as some of the customs and practices of the indigenous people in the United States, Latin-Americas, and parts of Africa. “This is what I believe, and why,” he would say. “When you’re older, maybe you’d like to choose a religion for yourself. Or maybe not, and that’s okay, too. It is between you and God — if you even choose to believe in God. I hope you do. You need something to keep your sanity and faith; the more intelligent you are, the harder it is to be happy.”
A lot of what he'd tell me went over my head at the time, but remained in my heart.
As a youngster who inherently supported gender-equality before I even knew feminism was a thing, I never quite found solace in Catholicism, where the conversations about women seemed to center on their sexuality or their identities in relation to men, as opposed to their deeds and merits. Mary Magdalene was often dismissively and flippantly referred to as a whore or prostitute, yet she was obviously important enough that she seemed to be a semi-permanent part of Jesus’ entourage, and Jesus entrusted her to preach. The apostle Peter even defers to her at some points; yet Mary Magdalene’s narrative in the Western world was more disempowering than reverential. I didn’t understand celebrating Christmas on December 25th, when, according to Biblical and historical evidence, it wasn’t actually Jesus’ birthday. I didn’t understand the idea of confessing all my sins to a priest — a mortal human — and needing him to intercede on my behalf to God. If God was all-knowing and omnipresent, why did we need confession? My search for God ultimately began to lead me elsewhere.
At the same time, I resented the settler-colonialism woven into my identity: I hated the “sexy Latina” stereotype. I hated the polarizing portrayals of Latinx women as either seductive sirens or matronly abuela figures.
When I started seriously studying Islam, and the way Islam revered women and gave Muslim women rights, such as inheriting and owning property, far before Western women received the same rights, I felt invigorated. I felt empowered by a religion who implored the importance of seeking knowledge, so much so that the first university in the world was founded by a Muslim woman in Morocco. I began to understand what my grandfather spoke about when he told me how the “right” religion for me might feel. I could articulately explain what I believed and why I believed it. There was no one needed as an intermediary for me to access God — I could access God five times a day or more. Islam took a strong stance on social justice and equality — something else that was absolutely vital to me when considering God — that God have a commitment to social justice and equality. Wearing the hijab allowed me to reject the “sexy” stereotype and hypersexualization of our society that I so disliked and found so disempowering. It was, for me, the beginning of being able to have real agency over my body, for the first time in my life, by choosing who got to see what and when. People would see me for me and not my body or looks.
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