A Letter to My Son: Ostracized From Islam

You may have read my post about deciding to take a school trip to Istanbul.  While the experience was enriching, thrilling, educational, and cemented my love for the city, this one experience stands out because it causes great pain in my heart: feeling ostracized in a mosque.

I have some ideas of why I felt excluded.  The definition of what is appropriate for a woman to wear in a mosque has changed, as the cultural fabric of Turkey has changed over the last ten years.  This info graphic from the University of Michigan is indicative of what I experienced in Istanbul.   I was dressed as woman number 5.

From an article on the Pew Research center's website, info from the Middle Eastern Values Study, University of Michigan Population Studies Center
From an article on the Pew Research center’s website, info from the Middle Eastern Values Study, University of Michigan Population Studies Center

I acknowledge the infographic’s limitations in that it is unclear who they surveyed and whether women have different responses, but it is still a striking depiction for me, because I have seen the changes over time first hand.  Personally, I don’t think this bodes well for the protection or establishment of women’s rights in the Middle East.  But then, I’m a secularist.

While in Istanbul, I wrote letters to my son.  This one describes my inability to reconcile feminism and Islam, through this deeply personal experience.

Today we toured the old city.  We went in Suleymaniye Mosque, Rustem Pasa mosque, and another mosque.  I can’t remember the name of the third.  In the third one, which we actually visited first, I felt really weird.  This old man kept staring at me.  This area has become full of conservative Muslims.  50-70% of the women are covered, which is so different from my last trip to Istanbul in 2004!  Very few women were covered then.  

I went into these mosques expecting to feel a profound sense of God and spirituality, similar to the feeling I have experienced in French and Italian churches and basilicas.  These mosques are architecturally beautiful and designed to glorify God.  I did not feel any spirituality in this or in Suleymaniye mosque.  Isn’t that sad?  Instead, I felt like a pariah.  Like I couldn’t cover myself enough, hide myself enough, or become small enough.  Like if I spoke, it would be offensive, like I should have no voice.  This odd feeling of otherness, like my very existence as a female was an affront to God.  As if I needed to disappear.  

Think about that.  I must cover myself, hide my physicality, and not be seen nor heard in this house of God.  I imagine this must be how gay people people feel when people say stupid shit like, “I don’t care if you’re gay, just don’t throw it in my face.”  We are not throwing anything in anyone’s face.  We are merely existing.  Our simple existence offends someone.  Offends GOD.  Who created us.

Is this not my religion?  Is this not my House of God?  Am I not worthy of His blessing and love?  Is anyone who doesn’t fit this narrow definition of righteousness not deserving?  Who defines this so called righteousness?  We are all deserving.  But I feel no welcome here.  I do not feel God’s love.  

How about that?  Your mother walks into a mosque a half-way Muslim and walks out an apostate.

rustem pasa1
Rustem Pasa mosque interior


Note:  I will be taking a break from writing for a couple months to get through winter term of school.  I will recommence posting in late March.  Thank you for reading and commenting on my posts.  I appreciate your support and the thought provoking conversations.

2 thoughts on “A Letter to My Son: Ostracized From Islam

  1. Thank you Karelia. “Sense of loss.” That sums it up perfectly. Have you been able to reclaim any connection to your Christian roots? I don’t know if it’s possible for me. This bigotry is so ingrained in the religion. Islam needs a reformation.


  2. This was a really powerful piece. As a gay woman who did not always feel connected to my Christian roots because of some Christian churches’ stance on homosexuality, I related. But I think what I related to most was the sense of loss you described at visiting a place that was supposed to embody the holy, to share a glimpse of God on earth, and then to feel that it did not. It would be hyperbole to say that that is just as sad as seeing a beautiful mosque torn down, but there is some of the same sense of loss.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s