Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West

By Karin Van Nieuwkerk | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
Keeping the Faith
Convert Muslim Mothers and the Transmission
of Female Muslim Identity in the West

Marcia Hermansen

This chapter is a study of Euro-American female converts to Islam in the United States who have raised daughters as Muslims since their conversion. Through a series of personal interviews conducted either in face-to-face meetings or over the telephone, I gathered data based on a loose protocol of questions. This study was intended to examine the experiences of convert mothers who attempted to raise daughters with Muslim identities. My theoretical analysis of the results frames their responses within identity issues—for example, how self-perceptions evolved during the individuals' life cycles against the background of external factors such as the development of a Muslim immigrant community in the United States, cultural change in American attitudes toward women's roles, and global political events.

My sample is a group of eleven Euro-American women who converted to Islam between 1967 and 1980 who reflected on their experiences raising nineteen of their twenty-one daughters (I excluded two daughters who are under fifteen years of age). In a certain sense all the mothers are “individual” converts, that is, women who claim to have chosen conversion of their own volition. Although some converted only after marriage to Muslim males, they asserted that they never felt pressured to make that decision. Seven of the women are married to other Euro-Americans, and I will subsequently refer to this combination as an “AA” marriage, and four others married immigrant Muslim males, which I will mark as an “AI” combination. In order to limit the variables in identity transmission, I did not interview African American convert mothers as part of this research.

The very fact that there is a new generation of Muslims born to the first cohort of convert women is a significant milestone. Allievi refers to the cohort of the convert mothers as “generation zero,” since it is their children who will really be the first ones growing up as “American Muslims” (1998, 216).

Fifteen years ago I considered for the first time the types of American women who were choosing to convert to Islam (Hermansen 1991, 188–201). At that time, I concluded that the generational cohort of conversion (i.e., that of the 1960s,

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