WHAT DOES A MUSLIM LOOK LIKE?
“My first experience of faith was when I woke up and said to myself, ‘I am a Muslim.’ I was 35 years old at that time. I had been reading about Islam. When we came back to Denmark I started to read about Islam because people asked me about Islam.
I went to an evening course and there was a lady there who said that according to Islam, women don’t go to paradise. I said to myself, ‘What?’ I had read something else; this wasn’t correct but I didn’t speak out because I was raised to be shy. So I went home and I remember I was crying on the bus. There were not many passengers, and the bus driver asked me, ‘Are you OK?’
I realized this lady had talked negative about Islam. I was angry, not because this was my husband’s faith but because it had become mine. The next morning I woke up and knew I was a Muslim and it’s the way I should go. And it was only after that point, not right after, maybe months or years after or so, that I really felt a connection with God, with the Divine, that I had never felt before.”
Aminah Tønnsen is from Copenhagen but she fell in love with a man from Morocco and followed him there to get married and start a family. The entire time she lived in Morocco she was not interested in Islam. It was only after their marriage ended and she moved back to Denmark that she began to explore the faith because people asked her about it. I was deeply moved by Aminah’s story, how she gradually came to understand that she was Muslim, and that this was the path of faith that was right for her. She was at an Islamic study session and another person at the session claimed something false about Islam and it sent her into a deep sadness. Only at the end of her sadness did she realize that the Islam that was criticized was her Islam, not just the religion of her ex-husband.
In January 2017, Donald Trump signed executive order 13769 that banned Muslims from entering the United States for 90 days. I had this event in mind as I was reminded that Islam has brought billions of people closer to God and only a radicalized handful to terrorism. Who could look at Aminah Tønnsen and say she is a threat? Indeed, Islam means “submitted to God” and we must honor all those of all religions who are submitted to the God of their understanding… and all those of no religion who do the work of peace and lovingkindness in this world.
It was a God-incidence (not a coincidence) that Aminah’s portrait was scheduled to be shared on the Portraits in Faith website the week of Trump’s executive order, the week of this horrible action by the then-new president. I encourage all of us to listen to Aminah’s story and reflect on what it means to embrace rather than reject those who are different from us.