This past week, Sinead O’Connor announced, via her Twitter feed, that she had officially embraced Islam. Along with the proclamation that she now goes by the name Shuhada, she shared a melodic rendition of the adhaan (call to prayer). Regarding her rendition, Shuhada wrote, “I got some pronouncition [sic] wrong because emotions took me from my page… but there’ll be hundreds of others onstage to come …”
Shaykh Umar Al-Qadri, the head imam and theologian of Islamic Centre Ireland, and chair of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council [IMPIC], also confirmed on Twitter that Shuhada had said the shahada – the Muslim profession of faith – in his presence.
In the aftermath, Shuhada took to Twitter to thank all of her “Muslim brothers and sisters who have been so kind as to welcome” her to the “Ummah”, reiterating her utter happiness at being embraced so warmly into this global community. She went on to say, “You can’t begin to imagine how much your tenderness means to me.”
While cynics may scratch their heads, and point to Shuhada’s history of openly discussing her struggles with mental illness, it seems to me that Shuhada’s acceptance of Islam speaks to her understanding of the religion as a place of welcome. Through her prose, Shuhada indicates that she sees Islam as a religion that will empower her, not shackle her to oppressive societal discourse.
Perhaps, in Islam, she has found the sense of community that so many of us seek. Perhaps she has found a place of refuge; of respite. Shortly after her conversion, Shuhada retweeted Shaykh Dr. Umar Al-Qadri when he said “If your #Islam is to oppress #women, stop their participation in public life and confining them to homes and believing their voice is also #haram to listen unless she is a mahram, then your Islam isn’t the Islam of the #ProphetMuhammad (PBUH) that is universal and timeless.”
That is the mentality we strive for at MuslimGirl, and evidently, that is what Shuhada sees in Islam. The acceptance of a woman’s place in Islam as a strong, self-assured, empowered entity. Not as a rehabilitation center for poorly-raised men. But as a leader, as a nurturer, as an autonomous being.
Widespread coverage of her conversion has made repeated mention of Shuhada’s past struggles with mental health, and her very public ordination and fallout with the Catholic faith. Is the intention behind this coverage to suggest there is some sort of correlation between her history of mental illness and her acceptance of Islam? Because if so, let me pull no punches in stating, loud and clear, that this is problematic. Coverage like this is insulting to Shuhada’s own agency. Let me reiterate: if the intention behind bringing up her openness regarding her struggles with mental health, and her behavior which suggested she was disenfranchised with the way society is, is designed to suggest that her acceptance of Islam is just another stop on a wayward journey, then everyone involved in promoting this narrative is stripping Shuhada of her autonomy.
And doesn’t it seem, from her own rhetoric, that this is exactly the type of judgement, and problematic policing of thought, that she is trying to escape?