It’s hard to believe that we are not even halfway through our road trip today, because we have already met with such a diverse array of people from whom I have gained so much inspiration and knowledge. However, for me, tonight’s meeting with Lauren Schreiber surpassed our previous engagements in some unexpected and wonderful ways. Gathered in a circle in the D.C. office of Critical Exposure, a photography and community outreach organization for which Schreiber works, our class ate pizza and spoke with Lauren and her husband Muhammad openly, lightly, and very really about Islam, her conversion experience, and her art. One of the things that struck me the most about the visit is that while I have found many models for myself on this trip – in terms of intellect, carriage, education – Lauren affected me personally in her holistic reflection of how art and community and feminism and Islam all intertwine for her.
I was surprised by how incredibly relatable Lauren’s conversion experience sounded. She relayed her original concerns about Islam – such as women having to pray in the back of the mosque or wearing hijab – and how she worked through these concerns by talking to friends, originally thinking “I respect that this works for your tradition but it doesn’t work for me.” She then explained the ways in which the pieces began to fall together for her, within and without Islam. Schreiber said that she had never felt the sense of true community she felt within the Muslim community, and even more than that, the sense of support and unexpected power she felt emanating specifically from the community of Muslim women within the mosque.
It was particularly interesting for me to hear about Lauren’s evolution in feelings about the woman’s role in Islam. She at first was very wary of inequality, but soon grew to appreciate the respect Muslim women are given, the separate space they have in the mosque, and the power and autonomy that Islamic law allows women. Lauren explained how in many ways, Islam is actually much more generous to women than traditional American law; for example, Lauren said “whatever money I make, is mine. Whatever money he makes [pointing to Muhammad] is also mine.” This statement was reminiscent of our meeting with lawyer Alisha Rahman, who said she rejected Islamic feminism because “Islam is feminist on its own.”
At the beginning of the meeting, Lauren explained that she had recently been making a concerted effort to focus more of her time on songwriting and art, giving herself permission to do the things she loves and can make the most difference doing. Luckily, before the meeting concluded Lauren and Muhammad were kind enough to play some of their music for us. I would say this part of the night was what set this experience apart from the rest. As an artist, and as someone who values the power of words to create meaning and make change, it was invaluable to hear the rawness and honesty of Lauren’s music as she and Muhammad used their art to speak about the current state of our world in a personal and universal way. Also, as a senior undergraduate with little certainty about the future, Lauren’s story of conversion and emphasis on art reminded me of the importance of being honest to yourself, following your passion, and trusting that the pieces will fall into place.