I want to take a moment to share my thoughts (humbly) on this unique and ground breaking book, just released in July. If you are reading this blog (I’m honored), stop whatever it is your doing and enlighten yourself with the first “good read” for all who desire understanding and acceptance of society, faith, and culture in the beautiful U.S.A. After reading this I truly felt “proud to be an American” as well as a sense of pride in my faith of Islam (if the two could ever be bridged). As a matter of fact that’s what this journey is all about, bridges…
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I was lucky enough to be involved in this “Journey into America” when my dear friend Elif Kavakci (blog: HijabiTopia) invited me to photograph for an interview she was doing for Turkish publication, Zaman News. The article featured an America girl who was on an anthropological study of Muslims in America and also life in Muslim countries. Hailey was her name, and the curious tendencies of human beings are her game. Hailey is a star pupil of the famed Professor\Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, of the American University in Cairo, and traveled with him and the rest of their group across several Muslim countries and then across her own homeland here in America.
Elif Kavakci interviews Hailey Woldt
After photographing Hailey for Elif’s article, I was invited for dinner at the Kavakci home, where Hailey in turn would like to study into my own humble brain for the secret life of an American convert to Islam. The Professor also attended and it was truly an inspiring evening to top all dinner invitations (in my book).
Elif Kavakci, Hailey Woldt, Nicole Queen
The next day I met Hailey and Elif and the Professor, along with another star student manning a small camera, at a high end mall in Dallas. Hailey wanted to perform a sort of anthropology experiment where the three of us would dress in all black conservative garments, looking like what most Americans view as extreme Muslims, with simple black scarves around our hair, and heavy black abaya’s. This was an experiment she had tried before in a small town on her own (braver than me!) and was able to see a lot of shocked reactions from people, based on merely her clothing. Honestly, I told Hailey “Hey this is Dallas, people aren’t shocked to see Muslims shopping in the mall, the mall is always full of Muslim women blissfully shopping. Elif and I only know this because it’s what we have heard…LOL”. We continued on anyway just to see if we could catch a few uncomfortable glances from passersby, curious at our choice of garments. Later that day I met with Hailey at the hotel they were staying at nearby and we engaged in conversation on camera, for their documentary, “Journey into America”. Which later, was further inscribed into the pages of this challenging novel, “Journey into America-The Challenge of Islam”
I’m not going to spoil it but this book is not your “run of the mill” political or social writings…
“Professor Akbar Ahmed turns his intrepid approach to cultural dialogue and inter-faith understanding onto American society, in this brilliant follow-up to “Journey into Islam”. His insights should be required reading for anyone grappling with national security, national identity and national cohesion in today’s complex era.” Colonel David Kilcullen, author of Washington PostBestseller and Economist Book of the Year, The Accidental Guerrilla
“I have not read a work as insightful, erudite, and innovative on the challenge of American identity since Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Akbar Ahmed sets a new paradigm in the ongoing debate on defining American identity.” Melody Fox, Berkley Center at Georgetown University
In this book, you will follow the adventures of a group of enlightening students, as they themselves discover what it’s like to be a Muslim in the U.S., post 9\11. You had me at Chapter 1…it’s exciting right off the bat. Un-Expectantly adventurous and even a little frightening, but only enough to keep you wanting more. Here is a small preview:
Hearing my call for interfaith dialogue with Jews and Christians, the man stood up in a startling breach of mosque-not to mention Muslim- etiquette to challenge my interpretation of Islam. “Good Muslims” could not talk to nonbelievers, he almost shouted. The salvos continued, despite my well-founded explanation: Muhammad, the holy Prophet of Islam, had himself paved the way for such dialogue. He had urged Muslims persecuted in Mecca to migrate to Abyssinia, a Christian country, because he anticipated they would be well received there once the natives of that land had met them and learned about Islam. But, the man in Arab headdress snapped back, the Prophet had really intended those Muslims to convert the Abyssinians by force.”
I was honored to discover that excerpts from my interview with Hailey are featured in such an amazing collection of societal history. I would have never had the pleasure of meeting Hailey and the Professor if it wasn’t for the selfless act of my dear friend Elif, mentioning to the group that I was also an American who had become Muslim…and that I had a story to tell. I learn on a daily basis what true friendship actually means, it’s an ever changing definition, and one of my favorite addendums is “A real friend is excited to promote the smallest attributes in their close friends, even placing them before their own much more grand achievements.” I thank God every day for my new “Friendship Philanthropists”, without I might have never seen it’s true meaning. Below are a few passages from my feeble attempt at sharing something in this amazing book. Once again I am so thankful to my dear friend for opening the door to conversation with Professor Ahmed and his star pupil Hailey. Thank you to the Professor for hearing my words and illuminating them with such understanding and clarity.
Muslim Converts: Shame and Honor in a Time of Excess
“Religious Conversion is a dramatic event in anyone’s life, no less than it was for Saint Paul on the road to Damascus. It changes everything. Fashion photographer Nicole Queen of Dallas had arrived at just such a turning point, paradoxically, at the pinnacle of her career. She was standing next to Justin Timberlake, one of pop music’s icons, with cameras flashing. The glare seemed to illuminate the world of vacuous celebrity that Nicole was part of. Wasn’t there more to life than this? At the suggestion of a Muslim friend, she watched motivational videos on YouTube and was impressed by Yusuf Estes, a white Muslim convert from Texas who was once a member of the Disciples of Christ Church. Shortly after, Nicole converted to Islam.Reading this treasure takes you on an indescribable journey that truly awakens your mind, clears out cluttered thoughts, and focuses much needed attention on the gripping relationship of Americans and Muslims. I truly home you will embark on this contribution to the vibrancy of American Islam.
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