News / USA

American Jew Finds Peace in Islam

Quest for spiritual truth guides US woman to Sufi Islam

Maryam Kabeer Faye, here in 2009, teaching Arabic to students in Gambia
Maryam Kabeer Faye, here in 2009, teaching Arabic to students in Gambia

Multimedia

Audio

For many people, the word 'Islam' conjures up images of violence, suicide bombings and holy war. But not for Maryam Kabeer Faye, a Jewish-born American. She believes the religion she adopted after a long spiritual journey represents peace, love and mercy.

Kabeer Faye describes her transformative experience, from her Jewish roots to Sufi Islam, in her recent book, "Journey through Ten Thousand Veils:the Alchemy of Transformation on the Sufi Path."

Search for answers

As far back as she can remember, Maryam Kabeer Faye yearned for spiritual fulfillment.

She was born in 1946 to a liberal Jewish family in Hollywood, California. While her parents were kind and loving, they were not religious, which left Kabeer Faye with a spiritual void.

At the age of 12, she was given a painted scroll of an ancient man with the words, "Seek and the truth shall make you free." That message resonated with her as she grew up in the tumultuous political climate of the 1960s.

At 16, she enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, then a hotbed of social and political activism. While there, she studied the teachings of the Koran, the scriptures of Advaita Vedanta - a form of Hindu philosophy - and the poetry of 13th century philosopher Jelaluddin Rumi.

Jewish-born American Maryam Kabeer Faye's spiritual journey led her to embrace Islam.
Jewish-born American Maryam Kabeer Faye's spiritual journey led her to embrace Islam.

Spiritual quest

She left Berkeley after just two years, to begin a spiritual quest to find what she calls her "truth."

"It was not any particular religion that I was seeking or that I knew about," says Kabeer Faye. "I was seeking that liberating truth, wherever the call was coming from."

The call led her to places far beyond America's shores, including Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. It was on a bus trip through an Afghan desert that she first encountered the faith that would come to define her spiritualism.

"The bus went into the middle of the desert and at a certain moment the call to prayer came just lilting through the desert - first time I've ever heard it - and then the bus stopped and all of those colorful people got off the bus," she remembers. "Everyone had their prayer mats and they laid them out in the desert and prayed. [It was the] first time that I saw people praying in that way. And it was so pure and beautiful and truly inviting."

Kabeer Faye had witnessed what all devout, practicing Muslims do five times a day. They set aside other activities, face in the direction of the Muslim holy city of Mecca, and kneel down in worship.

The experience was a call that she eventually answered.

Finding her religion

"Countless, countless moments of awakening led me ultimately to the path of Islam, and within that, to the practice of Sufism, or Tasawuf, which for me is intricately united with Islam," explains Kabeer Faye.

Sufism arose as an organized movement after the death of Muhammad, the central prophet of the Islamic faith. Many consider it a mystical form of Islam.

Maryam Kabeer Faye describes her conversion to Sufi Islam in her book, "Journey through Ten Thousand Veils:the Alchemy of Transformation on the Sufi Path."
Maryam Kabeer Faye describes her conversion to Sufi Islam in her book, "Journey through Ten Thousand Veils:the Alchemy of Transformation on the Sufi Path."

"It's kind of the interior illumination of the practices of Islam, which bring out the best in it. That is the love, the mercy, the kindness, wisdom, light," says Kabeer Faye. "And so that was the destiny that was marked for me, that was decreed for me."

She studied and travelled with Sufi masters in Israel, Sri Lanka, Senegal and Gambia, as well as closer to home in Pennsylvania and South Carolina, in order to deepen her understanding of this particular form of Islam.

"The experience I've had [is] not with the abstract study of Sufism in books - because we can always read about Sufism in the 12th century - but in my case, my destiny was to be guided from one Sufi master to the next, until my present teacher, who is Sheikh Harun Rashid Faye from Senegal, West Africa."

It is from this teacher that Maryam Kabeer took her last name.

Maryam Kabeer Faye visiting Bangladesh in 2002.
Maryam Kabeer Faye visiting Bangladesh in 2002.

Changing perceptions

Kabeer Faye acknowledges that while many believe Islam is a violent religion, the Islam she knows and embraces is a religion of mercy and compassion.

"I can't count the numbers of people I met who were the most generous, kind, and giving, loving, caring people," she says. "That is, caring for the orphan, caring for the disadvantaged, caring for women, caring for me. How did I become a Muslim? It's by that love. How would I transmit it to anyone else? Through that love."

Those who espouse violence in the name of Islam, says Kabeer Faye, have distorted the true faith.

"I learned by studying, that suicide is forbidden in Islam, and killing of innocents is forbidden in Islam, and even cutting down trees in a defensive battle is forbidden. So life is supported by Islam. Therefore oppression and aggression are forbidden, whereas mercy, tolerance, kindness and charity are commanded."

Maryam Kabeer Faye with son, Issa, in New Mexico in 1989
Maryam Kabeer Faye with son, Issa, in New Mexico in 1989

New journey

Born Jewish but now a Sufi Muslim, Maryam Kabeer Faye lives in Philadelphia with her grown son, Issa. Her home is a center of teaching and place of refuge for spiritual travelers.

In addition to attending conferences and workshops, Kabeer Faye teaches Arabic and Islamic studies to women and girls in the U.S. and in Gambia, as well.

And, once a week, she visits women in prison to counsel and guide them, and teaches them Islamic Studies.

Now that her first journey of spiritual learning is complete, she has embarked on a second journey as an author and teacher to share the knowledge she's acquired during a lifetime of experiences with Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

You May Like

Sydney Hostage-taker Failed to Manipulate Social Media

Gunman forced captives to use personal Facebook, YouTube accounts to issue his demands; online community helped flag messages, urged others not to share them More

UN Seeks $8.4 Billion to Help War-Hit Syrians

Effort aimed at helping Syrians displaced within their own country and those who've fled to neighboring ones More

Who Are the Pakistani Taliban?

It's an umbrella group of militant organizations whose objective is enforcement of Sharia in Pakistan 'whether through peace or war' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Putin: Russian Economy to Rebound in 2 Yearsi
X
December 18, 2014 5:13 PM
Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual end-of-the-year news conference Thursday, tackling questions on the Russian economy, the crisis in Ukraine and Russian relations with the west. VOA's Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Putin: Russian Economy to Rebound in 2 Years

Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual end-of-the-year news conference Thursday, tackling questions on the Russian economy, the crisis in Ukraine and Russian relations with the west. VOA's Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid