- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

Since September 11, I have found myself defending Islam just in the interest of fairness and enlightenment because so many people around me sound uninformed and misinformed about the basic beliefs of the religion and of its tenets. Make no mistake, the war on terrorism is not about Islam vs. Christianity, not about establishing freedom and democracy in the Middle East, not about cultural conflicts even. It's about oil. Ultimately, it's about who will control the land and the oil and the land with the pipelines to the oil. But that's another story for another day. For now, I feel compelled to dispel some of the myths about Islam.

I was raised in the Nation of Islam because my grandparents had joined in the 1950s attracted to its empowering message that God's spirit lived in black folks, too, a concept not preached in the black church back then. Back then, God was a white man on a cross, a dead man whose spirit shined down from heaven to help blacks bear their misery while empowering whites to rule the world. It's no wonder my grandparents followed Elijah Muhammad and raised my dad and his seven siblings in the all-black quasi-Islamic nation.

In this nation within a nation, ideals reigned. Men were taught to be industrious and enterprising and women trained to be supportive and subservient. After Elijah Muhammad died, and his son led the organization to embrace Orthodox Islam, my family followed that, too. Again, roles and principles were clearly defined. There were strict dictates for every aspect of life from how to prepare for prayer, what to pray, specifically what times to pray (five times daily), what to eat (no pork, kosher meat, etc.), how to eat (with three fingers rather than utensils), and plenty more. But, even with all this idealism that you can pray five prayers a day the way Prophet Muhammad had several centuries ago and go to paradise Muslim families suffered.

Finally, some of our mothers began reading and interpreting the Koran according to their needs rather than their men's needs, and all hell really broke loose. They produced a weekly radio show called, "In Light of the Quran," which broadcast on WOL in the early 1980s, and they received death threats. They were speaking out against polygamy and wife-beating and telling Muslim women it's all right to take off their veils. They began to distinguish between Arab traditions and Islam and tried to inform the public that one could be practiced without the other. That show didn't last very long.

I left Islam and for a while shunned organized religion in general. It would take years for me to begin to appreciate the gifts of my Islamic experience the discipline, the awareness, the information, the global perspectives, the universal laws I gathered through that experience. It would take years to realize that it was not Islam in particular or religion in general that was foul, but people's misuse and abuse of it and the abuses of it are as old as the word itself.

Muslim women, including the feisty Asma Gull Hasan, a young Pakistani-American author who penned, "American Muslims: The New Generation," are exposing and challenging oppressive Islamic fundamentalism, even as they cherish many of their Arab traditions.

I converted to Christianity 10 years ago mostly because when I decided I wanted a structured form of worship again, I found Christianity more culturally compatible. But I support the Muslim women who are pressing for change and reform in the American Muslim community and the global Muslim community.

God's speed to them.


Sonsyrea Tate is the author of "Little X: Growing Up in the Nation of Islam," and currently at work on the sequel.


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