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This week we hear from
Georgianna Monnier of Chicago, IL.

Georgianna has worked as a teacher, a waitress, a bookseller, a school administrator, a business administrator, a security guard, and a dancer. She has an M.A. in English & American Literature and taught English for a few years at Penn State. She then became a modern dancer here in Chicago (drawing on many years of gymnastics). Presently, she is a customer service manager and a children's art teacher at the Old Town School of Folk Music.


I had a very particular experience, as I suppose one must to be moved to choose a religion. I went to Sénégal to study dance and drumming, and I fell in love with the most kind, gentle and beautiful man - not to mention an extremely talented percussionist. His name is Moussé Sarr. I was so moved by his presence and deep understanding, his forgiving nature and his love for his family, friends and God, that I did not want to leave him ever. I also fell in love with the people of Sénégal and their immensely gentle, religious family life. I became a Muslim in the Grand Mosquée in Kaolack, Sénégal.

I was initially moved to Islam through love and respect for my husband, his family and friends, and the Sénégalese lifestyle. So, my husband and a few friends and I went to meet with the Imam in Kaolack because he speaks English and I could understand the entire ceremony-- the moment I met Imam Assan I was brought immediately to remember a life-changing dream I had had a few years previous: It was a dream where my bedroom was suddenly empty, as if I was just moving in or had just moved out, and a close friend of mine came in, leading by the hand an older African man in traditional white Islamic robes. The entire dream was a slow-motion feeling of dropping to my knees and pressing my forehead to the ground. I tried to tell the man that i knew him already somehow, but no words came out, and I knew there was no point in speaking as he too already knew, everything. I knew so little of Islam at the time, that I did not recognize the dream as a call to Islam. Not until the day I met Imam Assan did the dream confirm that I was headed in the right direction, to live as a Muslim and to marry my husband Moussé Sarr and learn from him.

As a Muslim, I strive to be vigilant of how I interact with people - how much love and respect goes into my actions and conversations. I offer much more of myself to people than I did before, including the many homeless in my neighborhood. I try to emulate the way that my husband and his family always treated me with respect. My husband still treats me as an honored guest – always! His goal is for me to be happy each and every day, and so I am learning to live life the same way. I am trying to remain happy for myself and for other people, which is not always easy! But, I am motivated by the realization of how much of my life I have spent unhappy for no reason. I value Islam because it enables me to feel much more at peace with myself, which is not so easy to explain in words, but I feel it offers me a reasonable way in which I can balance, and truly be at ease with, myself, my family, and God.

Family and friendship is all that we have in this life, aside from our relationship with God. Recognizing that we are all we have is a way to understand how we need to respect all people we interact with and how we are constantly learning about who we are because of those interactions. Family and friends have brought me this far in life, and my life would be empty without them. My hope is that my friends and family will feel the same way about my presence in their lives, and this is what I work towards.

Community is an extended family, but it is exceptional in that each community is bonded by different characteristics, be they geographical, cultural, religious, political or even just interest-based, like an artists community or students. All of the different communities are what make our world richer. My own life is made up of several communities and I value them all. The word community also implies a supportive and nurturing environment as a matter of course within a community. People recognize themselves as a member of a community to gain support in living their lives as they feel is right and true, and to contribute and share their abilities for the good of the group.

Art is important because it is both a means of human understanding and an expression of that attempt. Art is also the most essential tool for any individual or community to establish itself and have a voice and physical presence. Often Art is the greater image a person or community projects out to the world. There are few people who take it upon themselves to read the literature of a religion other than their own, or traverse the globe encountering other cultures, and so it is often artistic expressions of religious sentiment or reflections on one's life experience that are more available to the public for consideration and investigation. This is exactly why art is so important, as it embodies the voices of individuals, communities and whole cultures. Art can elevate an individual by providing a different kind of "work" that most often results in spiritual discovery or heightened awareness of the human condition.

Among societies art is an expression of particular existence that, as a body of art, can then convey perspective. A sculpture of anything at all is the convergence of commentary visited upon the physical world, and each society brings with it unique commentaries on life, God, and the meaning of human existence, both for their own societies, and for those who are moved to strike out on a path of discovery who might Encounter them, Incha'ala.

I try to focus on myself as an individual and think of how I can live in a way that does not let those forces working to create hysterical and generalized - or extrapolated determinations regarding Muslims affect me. By living in each moment and making my immediate world work for me, I can meet challenges with pride and strength, rather than feeling wounded or alienated by those who want to present difficulties or plant seeds of frustration for anyone working to live a Muslim life in America. I often feel vaguely separated from myself when I give in to feeling that I am unable to pray while working, or while visiting family, because of circumstantial details or expectations of criticism. And yet the challenge is merely the challenge of leading a life truthfully.

As much as I was taken in by the beauty and love in Senegal, I was still very happy and proud to return to the United States of America. Because of the freedoms and unique opportunities here, I was able to return to my place of work, who greeted me with open arms, and begin working immediately to support myself and my new husband and (step)son in Senegal. When I returned after five plus months in Senegal, I remember walking through the streets of downtown Chicago, in complete awe of the incredible city I live in. The streets and highway systems, the trains and bus systems, the incredible architecture and art everywhere. Chicago is my home, and I am so proud of my city, and I greatly look forward to showing my husband around Chicago and introducing him to the many amazing sights and the endless opportunities here for work, education, and self-expression. Even just walking through the school where I work and being aware of all of the supplies, educational materials and instruments we have for instruction, I realize the depth of opportunity available to me here in America to better myself, educate myself, express myself, and to help others do the same. There is little reason for me to not succeed at my undertakings unless l allow imagined obstacles to bring me down--the obstacle of myself.

This is who I am, and although I am still learning and understanding the course of my life, I will not compromise those actions and beliefs that bring me to love myself and others as my heart leads me to. Beyond the larger ideas, the tenets of Islam, which are the main theological beliefs that I hold, I find that the manner of Islamic prayer touches me deeply and is in fact the only way I have found to sincerely praise God and express my love for God. The physical act of reciting the Arabic prayers, standing, kneeling, bowing my forehead to the ground on hands and knees, and rising again in repetition, is intensely real and powerful. The simple truth and physicality of Islamic prayer was the anchor that sank to the depths of my being and brought Islam permanently into my life and heart.

I hope to some day write a book about my life experiences, or perhaps a collection of short autobiographical stories. I also want to record a full-length album of the songs I write, once my instrumental abilities catch up with my songwriting.

I also hope to continue learning languages and Become as multi-lingual as I can, Incha'ala. I speak Spanish, French (with the Senegalaise flair) and some Wolof, and look forward to studying Arabic.


If you or someone you know would like to be profiled please email a short bio and photo to communications@cairchicago.org



 
  • Georgianna Monnier 01/15/2004




  • American Muslims live amongst us as friends, coworkers, and neighbors, and are an integral part of the rich and diverse fabric of America. They serve their country and its citizens with integrity and are proud to be American. They practice the values and rich traditions of their faith and are proud to be Muslim.

    Yet an unfortunate and unexpected consequence of 9/11 is the unfair and misinformed scrutiny of Islam and Muslims as a whole. Misconceptions and suspicions arise whenever people are polarized from each other, and a dialogue fails to ensue between them.

    CAIR Chicago wishes to do its small part in replacing misunderstanding and ignorance with dialogue and understanding. Each week we profile a Muslim Chicagoan as a means to share the values and traditions of Islam, and to put a human face on the word “Muslim”. Who are they, what moves them, what are their fears, what are their aspirations?