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Female converts to Islam facing growing scrutiny

hijabisBy Omar Sacirbey, Religion News Service, 4/29/13

BOSTON -- When Karen Hunt Ahmed and her Muslim husband divorced four years ago, many friends asked her, "Now you can stop this Islam stuff, right?"

Some friends, she thought.

"Like it was a hobby I took up when I got married and now I'm supposed to drop it," said Hunt Ahmed, president of the Chicago Islamic Microfinance Project, which she founded with two colleagues in 2009.

Hunt Ahmed, 45, is part of a growing sorority of female American converts to Islam, especially those who are or were married to Muslim men, who must deal with the perception that they converted to Islam because of domineering boyfriends or husbands.

The stereotype was revived in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, when news emerged that the wife of bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Katherine Russell, converted to Islam after meeting Tsarnaev in 2009 or 2010 when she was about 21.

Tsarnaev, 26, was shot and killed during a standoff with Boston police while his 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar, was taken into custody and now faces a raft of terrorism charges.

"It's not just Fox. A lot of the media have portrayed her as someone who was brainwashed and who didn't know what she was doing," said Edlyn Sammanasu, who was born to Catholic parents and started studying Islam when she met her Muslim husband in college, and converted when she was 21.

"When I saw the coverage, I thought this was ridiculous," said Sammanasu, now 32, a technical writer in Fremont, Calif.

Seema Imam, an education professor at National Louis University in Lisle, Ill., has seen the same thing. She grew up as an observant Methodist but converted to Islam 40 years ago at age 17.

"Whenever someone talks about Muslim converts being involved in something negative, it's done in a way in which people say,'Be careful, look what happens when you become Muslim,'" she said. (Full article)

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