Little research has been done on Western women who convert to Shi‘i Islam. To fill this gap, this study was conducted on American and Canadian women who have converted to Shi‘i Islam.
Most of the research subjects in this study reported a moderate to severe sense of social marginalization after conversion. This marginalization resulted from membership in multiple minority groups (Shi‘i, Muslim, convert, and female); Black converts reported the most severe sense of marginalization due to the added pressure of being a racial minority in North America. Most of the research subjects also experienced a sense of social exclusion from other Shi‘i Muslims. Therefore, the question arises as to why these women continued to adhere to Shi‘i Islam despite these difficulties. This article will attempt to answer this question through an analysis of the data provided by the research subjects.
In the United States, at least a quarter of the Muslims are thought to be converts. Nevertheless, conversion to Islam in North America only received substantial media and academic attention after the September 11th attacks. Studies of converts have focused almost exclusively on conversion to Sunni Islam (hereafter, Sunnism), with converts to Shi‘i Islam (hereafter, Shi‘ism) left as little more than footnotes. When the Shi‘i community in North America is discussed, it is usually portrayed as an immigrant community despite the presence of indigenous North American Shi‘is. There are discussions of North American Shi‘i converts have focused on the male experience, leaving female Shi‘i converts as a voiceless minority. Since male and female converts (to any religion) frequently report different experiences, it stands to reason that male and female converts to Shi‘ism do not necessarily share the same experiences, particularly since Muslims traditionally emphasize gender segregation and gender roles. After the initial research on the experiences of female Shi‘i converts in North America, it became clear that many female Shi‘i converts experience a religio-social-racial and gendered sense of marginalization from the Shi‘i community. This marginalization significantly impacts on their religious experience as well as other aspects of their lives; for instance, many subjects reported feeling unwelcome in places of worship, having difficulty learning more about Shi‘ism, or being unable to marry within the Shi‘i community. Therefore, further research was conducted to determine why these women choose to remain Shi‘is. This paper will attempt to answer that question by exploring the women’s motivations for conversion, the challenges they face, their coping strategies, and the benefits that these women feel that their faith offers them.
Title: Conversion to Twelver Shi‘ism among American and Canadian Women
Author(s): Amina Inloes & Liyakat Takim
Published in: Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, 43(1).
Length: 22 pages