When Stacy Navarrete, 23, converted to Islam in June 2011, her friends and family thought she converted to appease her Muslim husband.
“[My friends and family thought] I was brainwashed or something, but it’s not like that,” Navarrete, a woman of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, said in an email. “My parents didn’t understand at first, but they are perfectly OK with it now knowing it wasn’t just a phase.”
Navarrete, who resides in St. Louis, is one of more than 3.3 million Muslims in the United States. She is also one of the 6% of Latino Muslims living in the country. But it’s not just the Latino population that is witnessing a growth in conversion to Islam. According to a 2011 Pew Research Center study, 20% of Muslim Americans are converts. The 2010 U.S. Census Bureau listed Islam as the fastest-growing religion for the last decade. In interviews with Mic, Muslim converts told us that they often find themselves combatting anti-Muslim bigotry and misogyny, while also learning and adhering to their new faith.
“It’s very scary living in Trump’s America,” Navarette said. “I don’t wear a hijab and normally people wouldn’t assume I’m Hispanic or [Muslim] but when I’m with my husband and son I fear that people will react negatively and try to harm us.”
Navarette said she traveled to Bangladesh in December 2016 with her husband. She said her husband made sure to return back to the U.S. before Trump took office. He didn’t want the family to get detained or forced to return back to the country they were visiting at the time.
Facing the rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry is a nuisance for Navarette when she is struggling to adhere to Islamic practice properly. Navarette said it’s challenging to dress in accordance to her new faith. In Islam, men and women are encouraged to dress modestly. Men are often taught to not wear tight or revealing clothing, and should refrain from objectifying themselves. Men are also discouraged from wearing any accessories that represent vanity or extravagance such as gold jewelry. Women, according to the Quran, are encouraged to cover their hair and cleavage. They should also refrain from wearing tight clothing.
“I have a curvy, thick body and it’s extremely hard to find decent clothes that cover,” Navarette said. “Also, I have people that still want to force their opinion of how strictly I should be practicing, and that’s not OK.”
Yaasha Abraham, 36, is a black woman in Chicago who was raised Jewish. She converted in May on her grandfather’s birthday, despite him hinting that she should “get saved” during the years following her father’s death. Instead of converting from Judaism to Christianity, Abraham converted to Islam.
“I began to read the Quran after realizing that I’d formed a lot of opinions about Islam without ever having cracked the cover of the religion’s blueprint,” Abraham said in an email. “I didn’t want to be a hypocrite anymore, so I decided to educate myself. I never knew how deeply it would resonate with me. I saw in the Quran a reflection of what most closely represented my personal views of what a relationship with God should be.”
Abraham said the Quran gave her more guidance on how to be a better follower of the Torah than what she had learned from her Jewish community about prioritizing the Talmud — a collection of rabbinic teachings spanning over 600 years — and Zionism.
“As a Jew, I felt that the Quran gave people a way to be better followers of the Torah than the vast majority of Jews who, in my opinion, are killing the faith by not giving Torah priority over Talmud and with Zionism,” Abraham added.”
Abraham, a dancer teacher, said her biggest struggle when it comes to practicing her new faith is worrying about being a dancer when more conservative Muslims might view it as taboo.
Abraham said being a black Muslim convert in the age of Trump is tricky. “My bags always get ‘randomly searched’ by the [Transportation Security Administration], and I purposely don’t wear hijab or straighten my hair when I travel so that people are more likely to see my blackness before my religion,” Abraham said. “As time progresses, I’ll need to accept that the lines are going to become more blurred and it will likely be the source of a great deal of frustration down the road. However, I’m black. My whole life has prepared me for dealing with this.”
Sarah McAllister, 35, was living in the Deep South when she converted to Islam in May 2001, a few months before 9/11. She said reading the Quran was what prompted her to convert to Islam.
“I opened up the Quran and it just opened something in my heart,” McAllister, who now resides in New York City, said. “As I was reading the book, [I realized] it was as if the book was reading me.”
McAllister was pursuing her master’s and Ph.D. in mathematics at Louisiana State University when she started wearing her hijab full-time. She said that it seemed as though white people felt that she had turned on her racial identity or culture for converting to Islam.
“I got the feeling over the years that white people felt offended by me being white and Muslim at the same time,” McAllister said.
She said that people might’ve treated her differently if she was just an immigrant from the Middle East since they’d assume she was brainwashed by an oppressive culture. But she was an educated white woman in the South, it didn’t make much sense to the white community there.
“For an educated white American [to convert to Islam], it seemed almost traitorous to some people,” McAllister said. “Total strangers all the time wanted to know where I am really from and a full account of how I could even possibly make such a decision to convert.”
In the video below, Mic talked to two women in New York City about why they converted to Islam and the challenges they face today.