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Why Islam and not somewhere else?|
My birthmother's ancestors were Spanish Jews who lived among Muslims until the Inquisition expelled the Jewish community in 1492. In my historical memory, which I feel at a deep level, the call of the muezzin is as deep as the lull of the ocean and the swaying of ships, the pounding of horses' hooves across the desert, the assertion of love in the face of oppression.
I felt the birth of a story within me, and the drama took form as I began to learn of an Ottoman caliph's humanity toward Jewish refugees at the time of my ancestors' expulsions. Allah guided my learning, and I was taught about Islam by figures as diverse as Imam Siddiqi of the South Bay Islamic Association; Sister Hussein of Rahima; and my beloved adopted Sister, Maria Abdin, who is Native American and Muslim and a writer for the SBIA magazine, IQRA. My first research interview was in a halal butcher shop in San Francisco's Mission District, where my understanding of living Islam was profoundly affected by the first Muslim lady I had ever met: a customer who was in hijab, behaved with a sweet kindness and grace and also read, wrote and spoke four languages.
Her brilliance, coupled with her amazing (to me) freedom from arrogance, had a profound effect on the beginnings of my knowledge of how Islam can affect human behavior.
Little did I know then that not only would a play be born, but a new Muslim.
The course of my research introduced me to much more about Islam than a set of facts, for Islam is a living religion. I learned how Muslims conduct themselves with a dignity and kindness which lifts them above the American slave market of sexual competition and violence. I learned that Muslim men and women can actually be in each others' presence without tearing each other to pieces, verbally and physically. And I learned that modest dress, perceived as a spiritual state, can uplift human behavior and grant to both men and women a sense of their own spiritual worth.
Why did this seem so astonishing, and so astonishingly new?
Like most American females, I grew up in a slave market, comprised not only of the sexual sicknesses of my family, but the constant negative judging of my appearance by peers beginning at ages younger than seven. I was taught from a very early age by American society that my human worth consisted solely of my attractiveness (or, in my case, lack of it) to others. Needless to say, in this atmosphere, boys and girls, men and women, often grew to resent each other very deeply, given the desperate desire for peer acceptance, which seemed almost if not totally dependent not on one's kindness or compassion or even intelligence, but on looks and the perception of those looks by others.
While I do not expect or look for human perfection among Muslims, the social differences are profound, and almost unbelievable to someone like myself.
I do not pretend to have any answers to the conflicts of the Middle East, except what the prophets, beloved in Islam, have already expressed. My disabilities prevent me from fasting, and from praying in the same prayer postures as most of you.