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Wisconsin Parent

Guest Post: On Being Muslim In Wisconsin

Sep 27, 2013 12:42PM ● Published by Guest Contributor

I grew up in the far northern reaches of Wisconsin, near the Upper Peninsula, the vast expanse known as “Up North.” Religious diversity meant someone might be Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness but I’d never met a Muslim. I certainly didn’t want to meet one either.

Until I met one, and chose to become a Muslim myself.

In 2005, during a vacation in Morocco I had a chance encounter with the man that would become my husband.  It truly was love at first sight but with an ocean and mountains of paperwork between us it wasn’t an easy relationship to begin.

It may sound strange, but I was the first Muslim by parents or grandparents had met. You could say I was as odd as a duck in an ice skating competition in our small geographical enclave. For a long time I hid the fact that I had converted from everyone – including my extended family. I listened to off-color jokes and jabs.  But one day I had enough and spoke up.

Beautiful

My husband came to the United States after a year of wading through US immigration and we decided to move to Washington DC. What a change! I began wearing hijab, the covering many Muslim women choose to wear.  It was easy and didn’t affect my professional life. Two years later, we decided we’d had enough of city life and moved back to Wisconsin.

Once a women starts wearing hijab the expectation is that she will continue to wear it for the rest of her life.  It’s a commitment one makes, much like that of a nun. We made Eau Claire our home and I didn’t think wearing hijab would be a big deal.  It is a college town, liberal minded, and with a varied international population.

Amanda No Glasses

I was wrong.

A few things happened in the first few weeks we moved back. One day I went to Wal-Mart to pick up a few items.  As I walked down the aisles, I garnered quite a few stares. I brushed this off but then one lady couldn’t take her eyes off of me, she was transfixed – and then she ran straight into a pole. I stifled a laugh before walking closer to help her.  I don’t know if she was afraid or embarrassed but she collected herself and walked away before I could ask her if she was alright.

Boys

Incidents like this make me laugh more than they upset me. What really affected me was when I would go into a store and be completely ignored. The clerk wouldn’t ask if I needed help and when I checked out the only conversation was my total. It didn’t bother me that kids would stare, I knew they were just curious. But it did hurt when their moms would grab their hands and pull them away from me and I could see a look of fear in their eyes. I have an MBA and even though I applied for at least 100 jobs over the course of a year, and interviewed for more than a dozen, I never was asked back or hired – until I hyphenated my name and went to an interview without a hijab.

Amanda in Morocco

There were many women in our community who emigrated from the Middle East to Wisconsin. I don’t know what their experiences were, and maybe the things that completely caught me off guard were part of what they just expected as an outsider. I found many of them had a very deep conviction and were not willing to compromise, wearing hijab had long been a part of their identity and they were not going to change that.

There were people that weren’t bothered by my scarf.  I have one friend who remains dear to me that never blinked an eye the day I started working in the same department as her.  She immediately struck up a conversation and saw through that piece of fabric. There aren’t a lot of Muslims in Wisconsin and I know a lot of people are uncomfortable because of what they’ve read or simply a lack of exposure. I never expected special treatment, but I do expect to be treated like everyone else.

Amanda Travels

Currently, I am living in Marrakech, Morocco with my husband and our two boys. While we’re pining for a Midwestern fall, we are excited to offer our kids the opportunity to learn (two!) new languages and to embrace the other half of their cultural identity. My days are spent in the kitchen, working on a cookbook, and sharing our journey on my blog MarocMama.

Tajine

Amanda submitted this post from Marrakech, Morocco. She previously lived in the Chippewa Valley for seven years and gave us some suggestions for summertime activities in the Eau Claire region earlier this year. 

MarocMama Muslim in Wisconsin Religious Diversity
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