"And you see people entering the religion of Allah in groups" 110:2.
Prophet Muhammad said: Islam –with out conquering- will enter every house and will spread over the entire world.
No doubt Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, but we note in west there seems to be a tendency of Western women converting in larger numbers than men.
I also always think about what Ambassador Akbar told me that Four out of five white converts into Islam are women, out of an estimated 30 thousand converts every year in America. Of the women we met, like Nicole Queen for example, many had striking similarities in their reasons for converting to Islam. Women we met were seeing a culture out of control and women being treated as objects.
They see Islam as a way of drawing boundaries around, and demanding respect for themselves and their families. They also complained that the excesses in society are a threat to the young.
Here is sister DEBRA L. DIRKS doesn't only write great works such as Islam our choice, but she is also used to giving lectures on Islam, we expected the Arabic edition appears quickly and she must get prizes for her great efforts and works.
Debra L. Dirks.
DEBRA L. DIRKS is an author, a writer, and a lectures, she was raised in the Mennonite Church, converted to Islam in 1993, received her sessions program certificate in Islamic studies from Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University in 1998, and completed the ‘Umrah and Hajj in 1999.
She has variously managed an Arabian horse farm, served as a substitute teacher in a private Islamic school, and worked as an office manager. She is the author or co-author of one article in the behavioral sciences and over 140 published articles on the Arabian horse and its history.
She is also the co-editor of Islam Our Choice—Portraits of Modern American Muslim Women, a book for which she wrote two chapters and which is in its second printing.
Mrs. Dirks has lectured about Islam at mosques, universities, and conventions in Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Mrs. Dirks is available for lectures on a variety of topics. Her special interests include women’s issues, raising Muslim youth in America, and being both an American and a Muslim.
Um Jerry had a gas leak in her home and it took time to locate and fix so much of my time was spent over there supervising the plumbers. Insha'Allah we now have it temporarily fixed but will need to have the gas pipes replaced over the summer when the furnace is not on. Al Hamdulillah life is so busy and blessed.
Q: Many Westerners view Islam as a religion that restricts and subordinates women in both private and public life. Yet a surprising number of women in Western Europe and America are converting to Islam. What attracts these women to this belief system?
Debra: Islam has many things that Westerners find inviting. Perhaps the biggest surprise for Western women is the total equality that is given to women in Islam. In the early 600’s the Qur’an declared and defined the rights of women and waited for the rest of the world to catch up. It is still waiting.
The Qur’an actively champions the equality of the sexes. This equality can be seen in Qur’anic teachings about creation, society, and religion.
With regard to the equality of the sexes in creation, consider the following verse of the Qur’an.
O mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, Who created you from a single person, created of like nature his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women— (Qur’an 4: 1).
There is also equality of the sexes in human society. Thus, the Qur’an enjoins that men and women are “protectors, one of another” (Qur’an 9:71), that men and women have their “mutual (rights)” through God (Qur’an 4: 1), and that women “have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable” (Qur’an 2: 228).
The Qur’an also prescribes equality in religion. Good works, deeds of righteousness, humbleness, charity, fasting, the guarding of chastity, and giving praise to God are prescribed for both men and women. Furthermore, with regard to such behavior, God has promised that, “Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female…” (Qur’an 3: 195). Similar sentiments are also expressed in Qur’an 4: 124, 16: 97, and 33: 35.
Q: Islam Our Choice, it's about Six different American converts to Islam, all of them women, share their life stories and their journeys to Islam. Each story is told in depth, and the life of each woman is recounted in detail for her pre-Islamic life, her journey to Islam, and her life after accepting Islam, Would you elaborate on them?
Debra: Al Hamdulillah the women who shared their personal stories in Islam Our Choice are still actively working to benefit Islam for the sake of Allah.
Below are the responses from both Linda and Stephanie. The others were not able to get a response back to me but their very brief information follow these write ups.
Update by Linda "iLham" Barto
Interfaith harmony is important to me, and, since the book Islam Our Choice, I have been blessed to be able to make some contributions in that area.
My illustrated book Where the Ghost Camel Grins: Muslim Fables for Families of All Faiths (Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an) shows the beauty of Islam in a non-proselytizing way to youth and their families.
Because of this book, I was a featured author at the 2009 Book Expo America (NY). My last book The Bible and the Qur'an at the Edge of Renaissance: A Judeo-Christian-Muslim Compass to a World of Peace (Mill City Press) focuses on how consonant values among religions can improve for peace and prosperity.
I have also published Ramadan Rhapsody: A Daily Celebration (Amana Publications) and Backpacks Full of Love (Zakat Foundation). Because of my accomplishments, the National Association of Professional and Executive Women elected me the 2010 Woman of the Year in the category of authors. My books are featured on my website www.Lit-by-Linda.com. Insh'Allah (God willing), my next book Memoirs of a Hillbilly Muslim (Dog Ear Press) will be available in 2011.
Update by Stephanie Parlove
From "Islam Our Choice" to the present has been a time of great excitement as well as one of waiting, learning patience and at times it seems a snail could outpace the rate at which life is moving forward.
Both my children finished home-schooling and went on to college. In addition to writing I have gone back to school also and am now a Junior majoring in history.
After two years searching for a job, Allah provided a wonderful career opportunity for my husband. We are all still blessed with my mom's presence and we are grateful to be able to care for her.
We thank Allah for our trials and our blessings.
Update on Sister Jennifer
Shortly after Islam Our Choice came out, Sister Jennifer mad some major changes in her life. To be able to become a nurse, Sister Jennifer joined the Navy.
She succeeded! She moved her family to South Carolina and has fulfilled her dream of being able to aid and help so many people. She remains connected to Wichita and is involved both with the community here and at their new home.
Update on Sister Khadijah
The period since writing for Islam Our Choice has been full of blessings and stressors for Sister Khadijah. She had changed her job and is now working for Cox Communications.
During this time, both of her daughters and one of her sons have married. Besides gaining two son-in-laws and one daughter-in-law, she has also gained five grandchildren. All these extra blessings and time constraints on Sister Khadijah have not changed her.
She still is involved with the community here in Wichita and is well known for her upbeat attitude and fantastic welcoming smile.
Update on Sister Carema
Sister Carema not only added to her own family with the birth of a beautiful and charming daughter, she also went back to school and received her Masters.
She is still involved in teaching non-confrontational learning and growth within groups and marriages. She is very active in her community and with Muslims Intent on Learning and Activism.
Update by Debra Dirks
Life has been full of blessings since we wrote Islam Our Choice. Elder care is a large part of my life as I struggle to help my mother-in-law to stay in her own home safely as she still values her independence in spite of her advancing Alzheimer’s disease.
Travel is more limited for me now as Mom’s care requires, but I still manage to go on a few speaking engagements which I enjoy very much.
I am always amazed at what Allah provides and how he has enriched my life. One amazing area is the Sisters and Brothers who have contacted me because of Islam Our Choice. When we first started this idea we were just looking on it as something we could do to aid in the effort to help Americans understand Muslims and Muslims in general understand that America has homegrown Muslims.
I never would have imagined all the great benefits we have received in this life. Sister Stephanie and I have moved on to writing a novel together. We are in the editing stages and hope to find a publisher for it.
Q: An increasing number of American women are embracing Islam-already over one million converts. Why do you think American women accepting Islam more than American men?
Debra: Women’s rights are being fought for the world over, including in many countries that profess to be Islamic. Peek for a moment at the history of women here in the United States.
(1) In 1777, everyone of the then existing states passed laws denying women the right to vote.
(2) It was not until 1839 that Mississippi became the first and only state in the Union to grant women the right to own property, a right that was contingent upon the woman having her husband’s permission.
(3) In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and defined “voters” as “male.”
(4) In the 1873 case of Bradwell v. Illinois, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state has the right to exclude a married woman (Myra Colby Bradwell) from practicing law.
(5) In the 1875 case of Minor v. Happersett, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can legally prohibit women from voting.
(6) It was not until 1890 that Wyoming became the first state to allow women the right to vote.
(7) It was not until 1920 that the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, finally giving women the right to vote throughout the United States.
(8) Between 1790 and 1922, it was the law of the land that any woman who married a man who was a United States citizen immediately and automatically obtained her U.S. citizenship. However, any woman who was already a U.S. citizen and who married a non-citizen automatically lost her U.S. citizenship, even if she had never left the country.
(9) It was not until the 1963 Equal Pay Act that women were guaranteed equal pay for equal work.
(10) Finally, it was not until the 1964 Civil Rights Act that employment discrimination based upon gender was prohibited.
It is a sorry, but generally ignored fact that women’s rights in the West have been very slow to progress.
As Muslims we have had our rights guaranteed over a millennium before the West even started to think about women’s rights. It is still a young movement here in America.
Q: " Being American sisters-in-Islam does not mean that we are any less zealous than other Americans in cherishing our rights as Americans, and it does not mean that we are any less patriotic…" how do you know this?
Debra: Patriotism, regardless what country you are from, is not negated by Islam. So whether you are patriotic about Saudi, Sweden, Germany, Iran, the United States, Canada or any other country, it is your personal decision.
In fact, in Islam you are required to honor the laws of the country you live in and to fulfill your contractual duties as imposed by citizenship or residency in that country.. Q: You always says "we are Americans who have joined a very special and caring sisterhood that transcends biological inheritance, personal genetics, ethnicity, race, and socioeconomic status. We have come to understand and to love the fact that what is important is individual righteousness, not superfluous considerations of language, skin color, ethnicity, etc." Would you elaborate on some of those differences?
Debra: It seems to me that the Qur’an explains it best.
All you people! We created you from a single (pair of) a male and a female and made you into different races and tribes so you can come to know one another. The noblest among you in the sight of God is the one who is the most mindful (of his duty to Him). (Qur’an 49:13).
If we can just be wise enough to use these differences to enrich our Ummah instead of to divide our Ummah we will have the most marvelous lives. What a blessing!
Q: Alhamdullilah! I think your great book provided wonderful insight into the life of modern American Muslim women. Would it be a great book for those who are non-Muslim and wondering about the reasons for the conversion of many American women to the wonderful religion of Islam?
Debra: Islam Our Choice has served as many different things to many people, including being used as a text book in college women’s studies and religion classes. I have often been amazed at how different people have used it.
Insha’Allah the non-Muslim Americans who have read it, have gained insight into Islam and into those Americans who choose Islam.
Q: Islam is a religion that recognize all Sisters regardless of race, or nationality. It is about time that we "recognize true sisterhood". We must unite and stand together for love, peace, justice, and harmony. Being American and Muslim in America does not make me any different from any other human being. you focus on these aims in your lectures, what about reactions?
Debra: The reactions that have been expressed to me have been positive. In general Americans like the idea of standing together for love, peace, justice, and harmony. It is my experience that it is harder to do in life than to say in a speech.
Q: Alhamdullilah, people see that no matter what governments are doing, wars being fought, people threatening, Islam is always there for us and you can choose to follow its straight path. What do you want to add?
Debra: Like so many other things, this is true regardless of what country you live in. We all must choose how we live our lives and how we worship our God.
Separating our cultural backgrounds from our religious beliefs is essential in following Islam regardless which nation is your nation of origin. In Islam we seek to live our lives according to the Qur’an and Hadith.
That does not stop us from enjoying our rich cultural past but it is vital to know the difference between Islam and culture.
Q: "What keeps surprising so many women in our American society is that a large majority of these homegrown Americans who convert to Islam are women. Some estimates place the percentage of American converts to Islam that are women as high as 80%. One simply cannot ignore this fact, which elegantly and dramatically illustrates that Islam speaks to an obvious need among American women." (P. 10-11) Would you elaborate on it?
Debra: It is hard to say which particular need is being fulfilled in modern American women causing them to be drawn to Islam. However, there is no doubt that equality is a draw for all human beings and Islam gives that in a way that no other religion or way of life has offered.
Q: I remember you said "My relationships with my siblings are now a little more formal than I would like, and I work to ease that tension." (P. 40) Could you give us some advice in these situations?
Debra: This quote is from Carema’s story. Those of us who began life with a family who followed another religion often find ourselves caught between celebrating holidays that are not Islamic and wanting to join in with our birth family gatherings.
I have seen many converts bridge this gap by emphasizing the cultural background of their particular family instead of the family’s religious background.
Hunting out those recipes that our “old world” for your family and bringing them to gatherings makes the family feel that you are accepting of them, even though you have a different religion.
Q: "Also, in Islam, I was free to work or go to school, but if I worked, the money that I earned was my own. As a Muslim, I was not expected to put my earnings into the family budget, as had been the case before I became a Muslim." (P. 237) How should you show this point well to prove some advantages of Islam?
Debra: This quote is from Jennifer’s Story. The society set up in the Qur’an is substantially different than exists in the US today. It establishes the male as having the responsibility for the family finances.
Thus, if a woman elects to work, her income, along with any inheritance and or mahr she may receive, are hers to do with as she pleases. It is important to understand this before attempting to understand the inheritance laws of Islam. It is the responsibility of the male to provide basic needs on an equal basis with his own, for his wife family and any unwed female relative where he is next of kin.
Thus when he inherits, his is a family inheritance as the female inherits just for herself. This provides for her independence in all situations.
Q: Alhamdulilah, you succeeded to prove the sisterhood of Islam was evident in the lives of these women, what about the brotherhood o Islam?
Debra: Brotherhood or sisterhood the function in our lives is the same. Regardless of where we live or what nation of origin we have, as Muslims we have an obligation to live Islam thoroughly.
That means we need to help our fellow human (regardless of their religion) at all times. Not only is this great and powerful Dawah for our fellow Muslims as it brings us together as an Ummah, it is also wonderful Dawah for the non-Muslims as they come to associate this example with Islam.
This is made easier by Allah as we know that even on those days when our lives have almost no resemblance to the day we planned, we are on Allah’s plan. So when we bang our shin on the garden gate, have a flat tire on our way to work where our boss will not understand, and we lose our billfold over lunch, we need to praise God. In other words, we are doing dawah each and every day. The question is, “Are we doing good dawah or bad dawah” by the example we are setting.
Are we providing for our fellow Muslims that which can strengthen the Ummah and meet our Brother or Sister’s needs?
Q: What about wearing hijab or, niqab even?
Debra: “Does the sister cover?” If this is the only question that you bother to ask, then you have succeeded in boiling down Islam to a four-foot square of cloth. Whether we cover or not, surely we can all see that Islam is much more than just one piece of material.
The problem is that this cloth is like a flag that proclaims us to be Muslim, not just to non-Muslims, but to Muslims the world over. Nonetheless, we, as Muslims, must not allow it to be the blockade through which sisters must pass. What makes this issue so paramount is that it is unavoidably visible.
Perhaps because we, as Muslims, do not have a pass-fail test, we have placed such tremendous emphasis on this one aspect of how we worship Allah. (The Christian faith has a pass-fail test, i.e. they believe that accepting Jesus (peace be upon him) as their savior will give them entry into heaven.) There is no guarantee of entry into Jenna in Islam.
We only know that we are to struggle, to strive to do our best to live our lives in this world for Allah, and to pray that Allah will be merciful on the Day of Judgment.
Nonetheless, the Hijab cannot be allowed to be used as the pass-fail test for Islam. At best, the Hijab is one of the many things that we do for Allah. At worst, it is a yardstick that we humans use to judge each other and to control each other.
“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male attendants free of sexual desires, or small children who have no carnal knowledge of women; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their bidden ornaments, and O you believers! Turn you all together towards Allah in repentance that ye may be successful ” (Qur’an 24:30-31).
Dressing modestly is a mandate for both brothers and sisters! Even treatment and judgment for brothers who wear tight pants or shirts that show off their muscles and for sisters who wear clothing that shows their figure and beauty is essential.
How outraged would many Muslims be if a sister wore garments that were as tight as we routinely see young brothers wear? We Muslims, both brothers and sisters, apply this unevenly, but Allah did not!
Q: The Arabian horse and the Arabian horse farm—Would you elaborate on it?
Debra: For 20 years my profession was the managing of Dirks Desert Arabian Horse Farm which was dedicated to the preservation of the Banu Sham horse. Of all the hundreds of thousands of registered Arabian horses, the Banu Sham horses are some of the very few horses that can be traced in all lines of their pedigree to the Arabian Peninsula and to the Bedouin horse breeding tribes.
Being able to participate in the preservation of these wonderful and unique horses was my privilege. It was through these horses and the research I did on them that we eventually met and later joined the Denver, Colorado Muslim community.
Q: Your sisters greet you As-Salamu Aliki Warahmatullah and wander if you visited some Muslim countries, and tasted some foods?
Debra: My first introduction to the food of the Muslim community took place in Denver as we visited different families and shared their meals.
Getting to participate in the foods and cultures of the different countries of origin of my Muslim Sisters has been a delight for my taste buds. Hummus, Salada Al Quds, Mensof, Khalayah, Knafah, Kibbeh and many others have all been enjoyed and become some of our favorite dishes to have at home.
However, so has Indonesian Coconut Chicken or shrimp or anything that is cooked in a banana leaf become special.
I am particularly fond of the Pakistani dishes Beriani, aloo gosht and korma. Among the many others from many other cultures and places, one of my favorites must be the Étouffée, which I had never had before. It is an American (Cajun) dish introduced to me by a beautiful American sister. We all have so much to share and that enriches our lives.
So the learning continues in this area as well as in many others. I never can imagine what surprises Allah has in store for me, but I thank Him for His beautiful blessings.
Abdur-Rahman: Thank you, our sister Om Yahya.
Um Yahya (Debra L. Dirks): Thank you for the opportunity to share with you my experiences and efforts. Ma Salamah,
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