The Quest for Peace in Submission
Reflections on the Journey of American Women Converts to Islam
Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad
In the aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the United States government declared a war on terrorism: on alQaeda for carrying out the attacks and on the Taliban for harboring terrorists. The war was justified as a defense against those who have chosen to be the enemies of American values and civilization, of democracy and freedom. At the same time, the war propaganda focused on the Taliban's mistreatment of women and cast the war effort as a means of liberating and empowering the oppressed women of Afghanistan. The noble goal of championing democracy and confronting Muslim societies deemed as mistreating their women harked back to the founding of the American Republic two centuries earlier. The Founding Fathers of the United States declared their first foreign war against the Barbary States, a war justified as targeting despotism and fostering an attitude of civility toward Muslim women. Islam and Muslims were cast as the “Other,” the counterimage of what it means to be American.
The immediate response to the shock of the September attacks was the question posed by the media: “Why? Why do they hate us?” and the consequent attempt by the American public to learn more about the religion of Islam. As Qur'ans and books about Islam disappeared from bookstores, and Christians and Jews visited mosques and invited Muslims to explain the teachings of Islam, Muslims were awed by the number of people who were being exposed to the teachings of their faith. One leader is reported to have said, “Not even a billion dollars to support da'wa [propagation] would have made it possible to reach as many Americans with the message of Islam.”1 A few leaders have cited this fact as an assurance that God moves in mysterious ways, that he has not abandoned the Muslims but rather is testing them. And in the aftermath of 9/11 there were several reports that there was a palpable growth in the number of converts to Islam, especially among women,2 leading some Muslims overseas to believe that there is a massive tide of conversion taking place. Despite the media focus on “the oppression” of Muslim women and the violence inherent in Islam, the process of conversion of