ABSECON — Turiya S.A. Raheem became a Muslim in her 20s. The Atlantic City native was working in classifieds at The Washington Post at the time. Her mother, who was living in Boston, asked her why she would choose the triple whammy.
“‘You’re already black and a woman in America. Now, Muslim?” she said her mother asked her.
Raheem, 62, sought to answer that question in her newest book, “Why We Chose This Way.”
On Sunday, she was the guest speaker during a book talk at Wadiya’s on New Jersey Avenue in Absecon.
Raheem said she interviewed about 30 black Muslim women about their experiences and then reduced the interviews into ten stories to provide anonymity to her subjects.
“If we don’t tell our stories, nobody’s going to tell our stories,” she said.
That same thread was the subject of her first book, “Growing Up in the Other Atlantic City,” which told stories of the black men and women who helped build the resort.
Raheem said she asked participants why they continue to practice despite all the negative press about Islam. The women ranged in age from 50 to 80 years old, she said.
“I was surprised everybody didn’t come to Islam looking for God,” she said. “Some of them thought this was the best solution to all of society’s ills.
“A lot of those experiences were revelations to me,” Raheem said.
Hoping to help outsiders understand the religion, Raheem has been speaking about her book at several events over the last year.
“I just think people have misconceptions about who we are,” she said.
She said there was a distinction between the Muslim faith and cultures that practice Islam. Raheem said that for Muslims in America, black women are not often the face of the community despite making up such a large portion of it.
“When do you see any of us being called up to be the expert on Islam,” she said.
Raheem said this leads to misconceptions about who Muslims in America are.
According to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study, 28 percent of Muslims in America are black. In the United States, the number of Muslims has grown to nearly 1 percent of the total population, the survey says. And in New Jersey, the survey estimates that Muslims make up 3 percent of the state’s population.
A group of about 10 women gathered in a circle Sunday to discuss their experiences and read from Raheem’s book.
Mary Wadiya Jones of Atlantic City said she converted when she was 19 years old.
“I went against the grain of everything 19-year-olds would do,” she said, cutting out drinking and drugs, clubs and Christmas.
She said she found common ground with a lot of stories in Raheem’s book.
“A lot of people just don’t know,” she said. “But the reality is, in our hearts we’re just searching for the truth.”
Desiree Barimah, of Galloway Township, said part of being Muslim is feeling a connection with strangers through faith.
“It doesn’t matter that we’re not family, but we are,” she said.
For Bashira Khan, of Atlantic City, she said that she hopes that people refrain from prejudice just because she is Muslim.
“Remember what it is you know about a person before you judge them,” she said.
609-272-7251 CLowe@pressofac.com Twitter @clairelowe