I guess you could say I've always been interested in other cultures. I was always the kid who made friends with the foreign exchange students and hung out with them. As most American high school students can't even find the countries in which we wage war on a map, I was the one my friends always liked to listen to when we did those lame country oral reports on such "exotic" places as India - and I learned it all from my "foreign" friends.
I like to thank that I am a living example of how beautifully (...tee hee) cultures can come together. My parents, of course, were both caucasian and born in the U.S., but they came from very different families with very different values and traditions. I learned to celebrate diversity at an early age.
When I converted, I had spent years doing comparative theology study Islam, Christianity and Judaism. I chose to leave Christianity for Islam based on my desire to live by its fundamental basis - I had yet to truly experience anything else. The Muslims that I knew at that time were American, Irani, Malay and Bangledeshi - all with very different opinions of culture.
However when I started to visit the mosque with the intention of surrounding myself with Muslims and gaining better Islamic understanding, I was schooled in the biggest lesson of culture in my life.
Each woman from each different ethnicity and nationality began to tell me how Islam "should be followed." Each was conflicting. Each confusing. They told me of how I needed to wear abaya/burqa/shalwar kameez. They told me I needed to eat dates/yogurt/rice/curry because this is the true Muslim way. I needed to don hijab immediately and marry one of their relatives back home so I could become a true Muslim. However, they all agreed: I needed to abandon my old lifestyle completely, and live as they said.
As painfully confusing and upsetting this was, it took me down a long path that lead me to regain solitude and dive into Islamic study alone. Which is why now, when someone begins to tell me about this or that, I demand proof - real hadith or Qur'an. How can I possibly really learn my religion when everyone's favorite sheikh is contradicting the next? Proof, people. PROOF!
Alhamdulillah, I befriended some true Muslims who accepted me just as I was and took the time to teach me real Islam minus all the, well, crap. I dove into Islam head first, and thus far, I think I've come up kicking.
While meeting more Muslims, I was, of course, introduced to more converts. At first, it was awesomely amazing. However, I began to notice a pretty disturbing trend:
-most met their husbands online
-most were unaccepted by their peers or family at home
-most had low self-esteem
-most would blindly follow their husbands without question
-most were unhappily married
-most had little to no REAL Islamic knowledge
-most had completely lost their identity as Americans and began to adopt their husband's culture
Now, I have no problems with meeting a spouse online - especially if you're looking and very serious about it. However, I do have a problem with men "preying" on young, lonely women and convincing them to accept Islam out of their "love" for them, rather than their love for Islam. I also have a HUGE issue with the man teaching HISlam rather than ISLAM. What do I mean by that? I mean teaching culture, not theology.
I have seen that most of these fellows teach their wives such things that would only benefit HIM under the premise that she is 'required by Islam' to do so - and the women do it. Why? Well, for that I blame both: I blame the man for his close-mindedness, and I blame her for having no backbone. In my personal experience, it is a HUGE misconception that the majority of Arab/Muslim wives keep their traps shut when they object to their husband's actions. There is a line between being submissive and being a doormat. From what I've seen, most converts have missed it.
As for their accepting Islam, I'm overjoyed to meet a fellow convert, but instantly equally saddened and enraged when she says, "Yeah, I did it for my husband." I'm saddened that she thought she needed to do so without personal conviction, and enraged at her inability to research for herself and for her husband's willingness to accept her doing so. That's not Islamic. Dawah by marriage - not a good idea. As soon as the relationship goes south (and in these cases, it usually does), the wife's failing respect for her husband is followed by her perception of the religion.
I'm okay with a Muslim man marrying a Christian or Jew. It's allowed. What I'm not okay with is him saying something like, "Yeah, I'm marrying her. I'll convert her." Wow. Yeah, I've actually heard this. So many Muslim girls are looking for husbands, and half the population is leaving to marry Christian chicks for visas. Wonderful tactics, fellas.
Once, I was actually told from a proposal that he decided to marry an American because the mahr, or dowry, to marry a Muslim woman is too expensive and he was happy that I already converted because it takes the work out of convincing me to do so. And while I understand, because yeah, in most cases, families ask for ridiculous amounts of cash, I don't appreciate being told I'm being settled for because I'm "cheaper," or that he would actually try to sell me Islam. Try again, Sparky. Needless to say, my answer to his question was, "hell no."
As for completely losing personal identity, I too have been accused. "Arabophilia" is a term tossed around to describe having an intense love for every and all things Middle Eastern from food to dress. When I first tried on hijab, my grandpa, trying to get a rise out of me, asked if I was trying to become "one of those ragheads." "Become" is the exact word. I'm not trying to become anything. I have already become in this world. I am what I am.
Though people tried to convince me that I needed to convert my individualism along with my religion, I've held tightly to things that are purely "me." However, t's not easy. Try going to a Muslim website (that is not of un-Godly expense) and find some prints in conservative clothing that are not blatantly ethnic (Arabic, Indian, etc.). Try finding a halal (zabiha) ribeye. Impossible.
With such influences, I can certainly see how some converts do become enamored with how their in-laws and spouses. After all, when you do marry someone, you two begin to mesh. To avoid complete institutionalization within someone else's culture, it requires open-mindedness and a willingness to learn. For most people, as with any thing else, it's just easier to do as your told, rather than make your own way.
As for me, I'm certain I haven't been Arabified.
How do I know? I still speak at a regular volume when on an international call. (Har.)