I read Quran to learn about terrorist beliefs, ended up becoming Muslim myself: Jennifer Williams

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Jennifer Williams

If you were to pass me on the street, you would never suspect I’m a Muslim: I don’t wear hijab. I have platinum blonde hair and blue eyes. And I am heavily tattooed. I grew up in Texas and was raised Southern Baptist. I use the word “y’all” a lot—and not ironically. But I am Muslim. I also speak Arabic and hold a Master’s degree in International Security with a focus on terrorism and the Middle East.

Several years ago, I realized that although I had long studied, analyzed, and written about Islamic political theory and how jihadist ideologues like Osama bin Laden use the Qur’an to justify their heinous acts of violence, I had never actually read the Qur’an. So I read it—and what I found in its pages changed my life. I found answers to questions about faith and belief and morality that had been plaguing me since my youth. I found the connection to God I thought I had lost. And seven years ago, I converted to Islam.

Just to be clear: I detest the twisted interpretations of Islam espoused by the likes of Al Qaeda and ISIS just as much today as I did before I converted—in fact, probably more so, since now I see it not only as a sick bastardization of a beautiful religion, but a sick bastardization of my beautiful religion.

When I read the Qur’an, I find a God who is beneficent, who is merciful, and who cherishes mankind. I find a religion that encourages independent thought, compassion for humanity, and social justice. The jihadis claim to love these same things about Islam, but have somehow decided that the best way to share God’s message of mercy and compassion with the world is to blow up mosques and behead humanitarian aid workers. Great plan, guys.

Three years ago, the hashtag “#MuslimApologies” began trending on Twitter. The hashtag was a tongue-in-cheek response to those—such as right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham—who, in the wake of the beheadings of Westerners by ISIS, have questioned why Muslims have not been more vocal about denouncing terrorism carried out in the name of Islam (except that many have). Tired of constantly being asked to apologize for the acts of a few vile individuals who twist Islam to justify their barbarism, Muslims on Twitter decided to take a humorous stand—by apologizing for everything: the Twilight saga, World Wars I and II, that Pluto is no longer a planet, and, my personal favorite, that Mufasa had to die in The Lion King. Some also used the hashtag to sarcastically apologize for the important contributions Islamic culture has made to the world, from algebra to coffee to the camera obscura.

Of course, I wanted to get in on the fun. After tweeting my sarcastic apology for the terrible ending of the television show LOST, I decided to tweet something a little more serious: a 140-character summary of my conversion story.

After sending my tweet, I went to bed. When I awoke the next morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my humble little tweet had been retweeted numerous times and I had picked up dozens of new followers. Several people—almost all Muslims—had responded expressing their happiness for me and welcoming me to Islam. So, that was nice. I also got a few trolls, of course: people telling me I was brainwashed, trying to convince me that the CIA created ISIS, or asking me if I had engaged in female genital mutilation yet. That was less nice, but to be expected; it is Twitter, after all.

Then things took an unexpected turn. My tweet went viral—at last check, it had been retweeted more than 11,300 times—and I soon began to notice a disturbing trend: of the thousands of people who were retweeting and following me, many of them had the black flag of ISIS as their Twitter profile photos. Others had pictures of themselves holding swords, standing in front of the black ISIS flag. Uh-oh.

Then the Saudis showed up: men whose profile pictures showed them in traditional Saudi dress (sometimes behind the wheel of a swanky SUV or insanely expensive sports car) started replying to my tweet and asking to speak to me in private. One guy told me how beautiful I would look in hijab. Another just straight up asked me to marry him.

So I’m famous. In Saudi Arabia. Great.

Not that I have anything against Saudis, of course. I’ve known plenty of perfectly lovely Saudis, and I would be making the same mistake as American Islamophobes if I painted all Saudis as Islamic fundamentalists. But there is no denying that something is rotten in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The ruling al-Sauds have given a lot of power and influence to hardline Islamic fundamentalists within their society in order to secure their rule. Among the results of this dubious bargain is that Saudi-funded Salafi-Wahhabi madrassas around the world preach hate and the Saudi state has beheaded far more people in the last several months than ISIS has—for crimes ranging from adultery to apostasy to “sorcery.” So it’s still a little disconcerting that I’ve suddenly become a big hit in Saudi Arabia.

It’s clear that my tweet about becoming Muslim struck a nerve with a lot of Muslims, both here in America and in the broader Muslim world. Non-Muslims sometimes don’t realize how much hatred and negativity gets thrown at Muslims and how utterly soul crushing it can be to have to defend yourself and your beliefs on a daily basis, and it’s really nice to see someone saying something positive about Islam.

At the same time, though, it’s precisely the actions of ISIS and their followers and the words of intolerance emanating from the Salafi camp that provoke this reaction against Muslims. And I, for one, do not appreciate having my conversion story used to attract more people to a repugnant ideology that spawns suicide bombings and beheadings.

(Jennifer R Williams lives in Washington, D.C. and is a foreign editor at Vox.com. The article first appeared in All America Muslim blog)

5 COMMENTS

  1. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the West. Nevertheless, the West has many stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam that are due to the media, prejudice, and ignorance. Islam is often looked upon as an extremist, terrorist religion. Many people hate Islam and do not want to acknowledge its true teachings. In contrast to what many Westerners think of Islam, Islam is a peaceful religion, which does not promote any forms against the teachings.

    The vast majority of Europeans and Americans know very little about Islam. They know hardly anything about its history and its teachings and do not particularly want to learn, according to a German academic. Very few westerners are bilingual. On the other hand, majority of Muslims are bilingual and have an associated knowledge of other cultures. In this respect, they are far ahead of many western citizens.

    Islamic studies is a “Strategic subject” that, when accurately and effectively taught, can aid community cohesion and extremism, according to British Ministers. Islamic studies should be part and parcel of National Curriculum instead of citizenship education so that all state , church and private school children could learn and understand Islamic traditions and values. The subject must be taught by Muslims.

    According to the Holy Quran, all children are born Muslims, it is their parents who make them Jew, Christian or others. This is one of the many reasons why now western peoples are reverting to Islam on their own free will. Throughout the history, Muslims never forced non-Muslims to accept Islam. This is the main reason why Muslims lost Spain and India.

    Today, many non-Muslims regard Islam as a religion that promotes violence, terrorism and war. Unfortunately, they rely in their view of Islam on the general media, which is not always accurate in reporting the news. Many media outlets, such as TV, radio, newspapers and magazines, are influenced by their investors or owners who have certain agendas and who want to promote certain values and points of view. Other media outlets are simply after the “big story”, in order to make more money and more profits. Others are simply “followers”, who only gather news from other sources, re-package it and try to sell it again purely as a business.

    In all these cases, the news reporting is not accurate, but is driven by ulterior motives or simply by profits. Only very few media organizations are committed to providing accurate and true information, regardless of financial gain. Therefore, people today should be very careful in what they take from the media.

    Before blindly accepting what the TV, radio or newspaper is reporting, one should think critically about what is being reported. Is this being reported accurately, or is it being exaggerated or even completely fabricated? Who are these people reporting the news, and do they have vested interests to report the story in a certain way, or are they completely objective and fair? Critical thinking is very important in all aspects of life, especially when it comes to accepting the media reports about important and controversial issues.

    Islam is in fact a religion that promotes peace and understanding among people of all faiths, and it strongly prohibits all forms of violence and aggression against all people regardless of their faith or race.

    Islam Prohibits Violence and Aggression, and stands for Peace and Justice.

    Islam clearly prohibits all kinds and forms of aggression and violence against anyone, except in self-defense. Islam is a practical religion, meant to be implemented in every aspect of our life. Therefore, it realizes the fact that a person who commits aggression and violence against others will not cease these actions unless they are deterred by similar actions taken against them.

    Islam also places very high importance on justice, and allows for aggressors and unjust people be punished accordingly, unless they repent before they are brought to justice. At the same time, Islam encourages people to forgive those who have wronged them whenever possible.

    The beauty of Islam is that it is a religion which appeals to common sense. There is no blind belief or dogmatism in Islam. The fundamentals of Islam are simple, straightforward and easy to understand.
    If Islam is so bad, then why is it the WORLD’S FASTEST GROWING RELIGION! It is also one of the youngest religions. However no matter how hard everyone tries to give Islam a bad name, it will be twice as more populated. So let’s get straight to the point yeah?, Basically Islam is the most hated religion I don’t know why hmm maybe because it is also the most fastest growing religion and 2nd largest but no one will be able to stop this religion from growing.

    Islam is the fastest growing faith in Britain. Hundreds and thousands of Brits are reverting to Islam. By the middle of this century, over half of Brits would be Muslims.
    “I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age. I have studied him – the wonderful man and in my opinion for from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the saviour of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness: I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today.” [G.B. Shaw, THE GENUINE ISLAM, Vol. No. 81936.]
    IA
    http://www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

  2. Brother Iftikhar,
    What’s your point?
    So much matter, no benefit achieved!
    Jennifer’s research and conclusion are excellent!
    Allah will keep guiding sincere believers who put efforts to improve.

    • Brother Iftikhar,
      Thanks for the link of London school of Islamics….it is much clearer in their aims and objectives..

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