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Not Brainwashed: Converts Speak for Themselves

Not Brainwashed: Converts Speak for Themselves
Western women who convert to Islam have chosen a different path that takes commitment, courage of conviction, and strength of character in today’s world.

Never ever again will I judge a person’s freedom and liberties by the length of their skirt -Yvonne Ridley famous British journalist who converted to Islam.

Recently, news stories about the deceased Boston Bombing suspect’s wife, Katherine Russell Tsarnaev, abound. Reports speculate about her life and her choice to become Muslim.

The media, to its credit have run some article’s from the Muslim women’s perspective, but by and large they are portraying Katherine, and women like her, as having been forced to convert to Islam.


Many news outlets are trying to portray Katherine as some sort of weak woman who fell into the hands of an overpowering force and was brainwashed straight out of Christianity and in the headscarf, Islam, and the arms of a terrorist.

Absolutely ignoring the possibility that Katherine may have converted after much soul searching and reflection done of her own free will.

“She was a very sweet woman, but I think kind of brainwashed by him,” reported the Associated Press, quoting Anne Kilzer, a Belmont, Mass., woman who said she knew Katherine and her 3-year-old daughter.

As a wife, I cannot imagine what Katherine is going through. As an American woman who converted to Islam, I am very familiar with the stereotype that is pushed upon women who choose Islam.

When a woman in the West converts to Islam, it is always assumed that she has been coerced. Why else would she leave her life full of every imaginable freedom, right? She must have converted for a man, she must have been brainwashed, or she must have been at gunpoint.

It is insulting. It is a roundabout way of saying that women who convert to Islam are weak minded.

This is not the case by a long shot. Women who convert to Islam are typically outspoken, well educated, free thinkers, and are brave enough to deviate from the path society has set for them.

When I converted to Islam, the sister who was giving me shahadah (the statement of faith) asked me why I was converting. She asked me twice if I was doing it for any person or felt forced to do it in anyway. “Because”, she said, “if you say that you believe and someone made you say it, your faith would not be accepted from you. Allah (SWT) knows what is in your heart.”

Brainwash [BRANE wosh] verb- to make someone adopt radically different beliefs by using forcible pressure.

How can someone be brainwashed and sincere? How is it that in Islam your faith will not be accepted from you unless you are sincere? Sincerity cannot be coerced. It is like saying you were forced to fall in love, it just doesn’t work that way.

And where is the follow up to the brainwashing? In order to sustain a state of “brainwashing” you also must isolate the subject from the outside world. You don’t see this with Muslim converts.

They go on to study at universities; work as teachers, scientists, military personnel, journalists and so on; they do charity work; they are politically active and motivated to be productive members of society.

With headlines like the following, journalists are scrambling to find a reason for so many people entering Islam in the West:

CNN WORLD NEWS: Islam is the fastest-growing religion

Why European women are turning to Islam

Washington-Report: The Nation’s Fastest Growing Religion

We convert because we find truth and beauty in Islam. We convert because we find freedom from objectified in Islam. We convert because we don’t let the media tell us what to think. We convert because Islam speaks to our nature. We convert for a million reasons.

We are truth seekers. We are logical, thinking human beings.

We are a group of women who are strong enough to face giving up all that we know and have in order to become closer to God.

We are a group of women who have faced bigotry daily from loved ones and strangers alike.

We are a group of women who despite how we are portrayed in the media, we hold our heads up high because we know who we really are. We will not be explained away as feeble minded or weak. We can speak for ourselves. And we will:

Fatima, a Canadian who converted to Islam says:

[…] I experienced the absolute power of prayer as I watched on TV for the first time in Tahrir square, Muslims pray.

This was my first call to prayer, I felt a blindness in my life had been cured. Shortly after this a good friend of 3 years I had met on Facebook, who lives in Cairo, Egypt showed me via Skype the Masjid outside his window just as Fajr [pre-dawn] call to prayer sounded.

I bowed my head and in my heart felt this to be the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. This was my second call to prayer, I felt a deafness I had in my life had been cured. I then purchased a Quran [the holy book] opened to Al-Fatiha [the first chapter of the Quran] and first few pages of Al-Baqarah [the second chapter], I knew I was about to find out what I always prayed for, the meaning of life, serenity, and peace of mind.

I spent a year and half on a very special journey (that continues by the minute) soul searching leading me to begin studying Islam […]


I received an email inviting me to attend Iftar [the meal that breaks a Muslim’s fast] on 2 Ramadan 1433 H […] This was the opportunity I had been waiting. I had not gone to a Mosque since I heard my first call, there was a voice that kept telling me to wait, I would know the perfect time. It was this night I declared Shahadah [the testament of faith].

Immediately upon entering the parking lot of the Masjid and a sister greeting me at the door I felt a light shine and my spirit jump and was fully awakened realizing I was always a Muslim by heart but did not know until Allah Subana Wa Ta’ala [God] decided it was my time to live and to be given a right to life with dignity through the Muslim way of Life shown to us through the perfected life of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).”

Western women who convert to Islam have chosen a different path that takes commitment, courage of conviction, and strength of character in today’s world. Never assume a woman is brainwashed simply because she is choosing her own path.


About Theresa Corbin

Theresa Corbin is the author of The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book and co-author of The New Muslim’s Field Guide. Corbin is a French-creole American and Muslimah who converted in 2001. She holds a BA in English Lit and is a writer, editor, and graphic artist who focuses on themes of conversion to Islam, Islamophobia, women's issues, and bridging gaps between peoples of different faiths and cultures. She is a regular contributor for and Al Jumuah magazine. Her work has also been featured on CNN and Washington Post, among other publications. Visit her blog, islamwich, where she discusses the intersection of culture and religion.

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