Regina Mustafa upends most people’s idea of a conventional Muslim woman.
The Rochester woman wears top hats and adores Victorian style. If her hijab is a mark of her modesty, her in-your face personality is all North Philly. Through social media and her online talk show, her life is the stuff of a daytime drama, compelling watchers to grapple with what it is to be a Muslim woman in a non-Muslim society.
On the first episode of her show, “Faith Talk Show,” a collaboration with the Rochester Public Library, Mustafa asked two Rochester Christian leaders to speculate whether it was likely she would end up in hell because of her Islamic faith. After some hemming and hawing, her guests conceded that in all likelihood, she probably would.
Religious intolerance? Not at all. For Mustafa, this was a slam dunk in the name of religious tolerance, because representatives of two great faiths were talking with one another across a religious divide rather than, well, killing each other.
Not all her efforts come to fruition. Recently, Mustafa had a friend drive her to a Lansdale restaurant (Mustafa is legally blind and can’t drive) in an attempt to persuade the owner to remove a roadside sign that read, “Muslims Get Out of U.S.A.” Bearing a bouquet of flowers, Mustafa entered the packed restaurant and asked the man to take the sign down. The man said no, because it was aimed at extremists, not all Muslims, although that is not what the sign said.
And yet, Mustafa is undeterred.
“I didn’t expect him to run out and take it down, but maybe he will,” Mustafa said. “Maybe, I planted a seed of some kind.”
Her message got out anyway, after Mustafa recorded parts of her adventure on Facebook, although she didn’t record her confrontation with the restaurant owner. A local TV station ran her story and soon it was playing nationally on CNN and CBS.
In a day when half of Americans say they have an unfavorable view of Islam and six in 10 aren’t interested or don’t know whether they want to learn more about the faith, Mustafa seeks to be the antidote.
Raised in North Philadelphia by parents of German and Irish stock, Mustafa converted to Islam at age 21. Mustafa deflects questions about her upbringing before her conversion. But she does emphasize that she embraced Islam before she met her husband to head off any runway speculation.
“It spoke to me. I think anybody’s religion would speak to them,” Mustafa said. “I was not raised Muslim. That’s all I tell.”
While non-Muslim critics cite the hijab as evidence of American Muslims’ refusal to assimilate, Mustafa roots the Islamic practice in a Western tradition. On Facebook recently, a commenter took Mustafa to task for failing to “adjust to our customs. Wearing the hijab is the way the men degrade the women of Islam.”
A lover of “Downton Abbey,” Mustafa notes that the hijab is not so different from the top hat that people used to wear in the Victorian era. No one left home without it. It was mark of respect and dignity. And so is the hijab.
“We used to dress up in this culture a lot with gloves and hats,” Mustafa said. “I’m not saying let’s bring back corsets, but I think there’s something to be said (for modest clothing). How different is our past from that?”
She never imagined that her web-based show, now in its 23rd episode, would last as long as it has. Her tongue-in-check motto for the show is, “Everyone has a right to my opinion.” The show racked up more than 4,000 hits last month, with people in Denmark and Beijing, somewhat unexpectedly, being her most popular viewers.
“I’m the type of person that would rather go out and confront and see what’s out there than just stay at home,” she said.